Happy Birthday! This is the feast day of Pentecost, the spiritual birthday of the Church! We trace our spirit-filled origins to an event that describes the coming of the Holy Spirit, as promised by Jesus, occurring some 50 days after his resurrection and 10 days after his ascension.
Many Christians consider Pentecost to be the last of three divine acts or epochs in cosmic history that give us a sense of meaning about time, history, and human purpose.
The first great act we associate with God the Creator who formed the heavens and the earth and all that is in them (and a Covenant people). The second great act we associate with Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, the Incarnation of the One who comes for all and takes on our humanity that we might experience our divinity. The third great act and age we associate with the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, which allows Jesus to leave us physically yet enter us spiritually and continue guiding us to new truths. We can think of Pentecost as a metaphysical feat in which we are reconstituted as members of the body of Christ, the Church. The outpouring of the Spirit upon all flesh propels us outward as his hands and feet to love and serve the world in His name. “As the Father sent
me, so I send you.”
The story of the Day of Pentecost, as told in our first reading, is not to be confused with that scene from John’s gospel in which Jesus breathes his Holy Spirit into his cowering disciples on Easter evening following his resurrection. While that certainly transformed their fear into courage and sent them forth to do AMAZING things, it was a foretaste. Jesus also promised that after his departure and ascension he would send from heaven the Holy Spirit to be their Advocate and Counselor, to teach and guide us in the ages to come, and to empower and sustain His people forever. It is THIS amazing act, giving spiritual birth to the Church about 50 days later, which is described in our first reading today from the Acts of the Apostles.
During Jesus’ very real absence, an auspicious day arrives during another festival when many Jews have returned to Jerusalem from their dispersion throughout the Eastern Mediterranean world. What happens to them in Jerusalem has a far reaching effect!
On that day the Spirit suddenly arrives on a mighty wind from heaven, filling the house where the disciples are sitting, with divided tongues like fire coming to rest on each of them.
Picture the same powerful Spirit that first animated Jesus now coming alive in each of them! Christ, though physically absent, can now be everywhere present at once through the disciples. Jesus strangely becomes more universally present in his absence, since the “Spirit of the Lord” is being released upon everyone. God isn’t withdrawing or withholding spiritual gifts and powers at Pentecost, but rather distributing them freely and lavishly. One no longer has to defer to others who gain access to God through the “holy of holies;” instead the religious hierarchy is flattened and we are all granted direct access to God and a variety of spiritual gifts through the release of Christ’s Holy Spirit at Pentecost. This democratization of the Spirit marks a huge new development in religious life and religious evolution.
It also has a tremendous impact on thousands of Jews gathered in Jerusalem that given day. Despite their many languages, they will be able to hear and understand these Galileans speaking about God’s deeds of power in Jesus and in those who follow him. Peter (the Galilean fisherman) is the perfect example of how this egalitarian spiritual power is now available to all. He speaks (quoting the prophet Joel) and says the last days have now arrived – the Age of the Spirit has arrived — because God is now pouring out the Spirit upon all flesh. Therefore not only priests and Levites but all men and women — casino online whether young or old, rich or poor – have equal access. Any one of them, just like any one of us, may be in possession of a God-given dream or vision of a better world, and must therefore give prophetic voice and leadership to it for the sake of the whole community, for the common good.
Not only were several thousand Jews baptized as Christians that day, but heading home they spread out across the Eastern Mediterranean, forming some of the first Christian communities that St. Paul and others behind him helped develop, even Chaldean Christians in present day Iraq and Coptic Christians in present day Egypt that courageously struggle as persecuted minorities.
Much like the earliest church comprised of those disciples who first cowered in fear, the church can have no real birth or vocation while it lives in fear. The church is not Christ’s new creation until we take heart in Him and find courage within ourselves. We are not the Church until the Holy Spirit comes and the risen One breathes forth his spirit, transforming our spiritual poverty into spiritual abundance and joy unbounded.
So we come to another celebration of Pentecost, giving thanks for the Holy Spirit that still operates unspent in this world, by which the living Christ is continually commissioning new generations of Christians to follow in his footsteps, as we’re reminded today in the baptism of Hannah Adrian and Penelope Buresh at our 8:45 service. It is the Spirit that empowers and sends us out to spread the Good News to the ends of the earth and do even greater works than Jesus said he could do alone, making it possible for God’s love in Christ to be understood and embraced across all barriers of language, culture, race and gender. That’s why it’s a tradition on this day at Trinity to recite the Lord’s Prayer in so many tongues yet with one meaning.
Ever since the first Pentecost, each Sunday the church continues to celebrate not only the day of creation and the day of resurrection, but also rejoices in the day of the Spirit as a sign of heaven’s banquet outpoured. In this feast of bread and wine, Christ imparts his own Spirit in us as food everlasting. Throughout the years, nothing is more consistently moving for me than meeting your eyes and outstretched hands each Sunday as we say, “The body of the risen Christ keep you in everlasting life.”
We respond with all our being to this enduring love, this promise and hope, this spiritual grace that empowers us each week to go out into the world and do the work we’ve been given to do. We respond. We act on the dreams and visions we’re given. The Spirit keeps pouring down from heaven, from one vessel to another, from one body and soul to another, just as it will today with Penelope and Hannah, a new generation!
It is His Holy Spirit that He sends us, that continues to love us, unite us, and transform us. His Spirit, living in each of us, anoints us all as his royal priesthood, to love and serve others as he has loved and served us. That’s why we sing Veni Creator Spiritus…
“Come Holy Spirit by whose breath, life rises vibrant out of death; come to create, renew, inspire, come kindle in our hearts your fire…
“You are the seeker’s sure resource, of burning love the living source, protector in the midst of strife, the giver and the Lord of life…
“In you God’s energy is shown, to us your varied gifts made known. Teach us to speak, teach us to hear; yours is the tongue and yours the ear…
“Praise to the Father, Christ his Word, and to the Spirit God the Lord, to whom all honor, glory be, both now and for eternity.”