Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The coming of the Holy Spirit to the disciples of Christ, Pentecost. This is one of the most profound moments in life of the church, it was the moment when a group of men and women received their commission to spread the good news that God’s saving promise to the world had been fulfilled through Jesus Christ. This moment is too overwhelming to really imagine. The Holy Spirit filled the place where they stood and they were changed forever. It is an amazing moment, and it is an overwhelming moment. When we read it in Acts its almost too much.
And so there is a tendency to let that moment stay within the pages and the words of Acts, we read it in church, we read it in our homes, and we close up our well – worn favourite bible, and put it back on the shelf. The priest takes off her red stole, and perhaps red chasuble, and the red altar cloths are changed to green, the drawings by school children of flames are stuck up on a board and to start fade and get a little crinkled. Pentecost done for another year, the long period of ordinary time beckons, holidays, warm summer nights (hopefully) and in our church life we take a little rest before preparing for the celebrations of the autumn and winter, All Hallows, All Souls, Advent and Christmas.
The Holy Spirit, of course doesn’t take a ‘little rest’. And I think this is why, while the description of the Holy Spirit coming so forcefully into the lives of the disciples at Pentecost is exciting, and inspiring. I like Jesus’s description to Nicodemus in that quiet evening conversation Jesus had with that fallible and faltering man at the very beginning of Jesus’s ministry, and the very beginning of Nicodemus’s relationship with the Holy Spirit.
Jesus describes the Holy Spirit using the imagery of the wind: “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’ (John 3.8). At first this imagery is a bit puzzling. But when we sit with it for a little while we start to understand.
The Holy Spirit can come in great gusts of wind, it can feel like a flame that ignites our hearts, our inspiration and emboldens us to do hard things and heroic actions. Certainly this is what the first disciples needed if they were going to take on the Roman world and all the misconceptions, selfishness, egotism, and cruelty upon which that world was built and through which it functioned. And sometimes we need much the same kind of courage for the work God calls us to do, and then the Spirit comes to us boldly.
I remember when I was being ordained deacon, in days of the retreat leading to this awesome event some of my fellow ordinands talked about stories they had heard of the Holy Spirit coming on those being ordained so profoundly that they fell over when the Bishop laid hands on them. I secretly hoped that would not happen to me, and secretly hoped it would! In the end the Holy Spirit was in that place, as powerfully as I had ever experienced. I did not fall over, but I felt a joy that was so intense that this will forever remain for me one of the most important moments of my life.
But this is not what happens to most of us, most of the time, and indeed it is not how the Holy Spirit worked in the lives of the disciples and the early church most of the time. Most of the time the Holy Spirit comes to us just as Jesus described, as a wind, a breeze, sometimes gentle, sometime with some force. We don’t know where it comes from, it often takes us by surprise, and sometimes we don’t even know it has come at all.
Think of those times when you simply acted and did good for someone else—without thought, and later marvelled that you did the right thing at the right time. Sometimes the Holy Spirit works through us and we don’t even know she is doing it. Or have you ever considered why beauty has such an effect on you, a piece of music, a painting, the sunrise in the morning, a tree bursting in bloom, a landscape, a sculpture, a piece of poetry? It is the Holy Spirit that enables our souls to respond to beauty, to goodness, to life.
So yes, there have been times when I desperately yearned for the Holy Spirit to come upon me with power, like in some revival tent, and bowl me over.
And I have to say, I still think that would be pretty exciting to be in a room with my brothers and sisters when the Holy Spirit descended upon us in glory and power, in tongues of fire and yes violent wind. But I have learned that perhaps the most powerful coming of the Holy Spirit in our lives, is more like a gentle breeze that helps us to do God’s will on this earth in our every day lives.
Jesus gently chided Nicodemus for not understanding the way in which the Holy Spirit works in each of us, shaping us, helping our own spirits to grow in those little everyday manifestations of the Spirit of God. The wind that is the Holy Spirit truly fills our lives and enables us to be part of that wind, to truly be reborn in spirit. Jesus came to us so that we could have life and have it more abundantly, and the Holy Spirit works through us and in us to give us, and every one of us, this life within God’s love.
Happy Pentecost, Jessica.