“All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to …” Acts 2:4a (NRSV)
Of the Christian high holy days, Pentecost is my favorite.
I like lighting candles and singing “Silent Night” on Christmas Eve just as much as the next person. Easter isn’t Easter without singing “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” in a sanctuary adorned with flowers (lilies, but also tulips and hyacinths and more). But Pentecost with its fiery red and without an expected favorite hymn makes my heart sing.
Christmas celebrates what was: Jesus was born. An universal human experience. Christmas is not just past tense. It also celebrates God with us, then and now. But we tend to dwell on the baby in a manger.
Easter celebrates what is: Jesus is alive! The tomb is empty. Death is defeated. God says ‘yes’ to Jesus’ word and deeds. But the good news of Easter is not enough for Jesus’ disciples. The first followers of Jesus gathered behind locked doors afraid of what might happen next. And Christians still struggle to venture beyond what is safe and familiar.
Pentecost celebrates what was, what is and what will be. We don’t have a catchy phrase; things of the Spirit are not easily summed up. Pentecost – as celebrated by Christians – marked the beginning of the church. Fear melted away. Without quite realizing what happened, the first disciples became bold in speaking up, speaking out. When they were accused of being drunk, Peter began to preach from the prophet Joel:
“In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy and your young men shall see vision, and and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.” – Acts 2:17-18 (cf Joel 2:28-29) (NRSV)
New words! New visions! New dreams! God raised Jesus up and has poured out the Holy Spirit, who know what might happen next!
The church’s annual Pentecost celebration reminds us that the Holy Spirit – God’s Spirit, the same Spirit that was in Jesus – is among women and men from youngest to the eldest. She (the Spirit) continues to reside with Jesus’ disciples. And She is eager to do a new thing: burning away the old and worn out, blowing away the dried up and no longer needed, offering renewed hope and fresh courage to the weary and the fearful, pushing the faithful to speak up and to speak out wherever they are in the world.
May we heed the Spirit’s lead.