Texts: Acts 2.1-21; Romans 8.22-27; John 15.26-27, 16.4b-15
I say “her,” because even though the Holy Spirit is neither male nor female, that’s how she’s called in the Bible. The word used in scripture means “spirit,” but also “wind” or “breath;” in Greek, the word is is pneuma, (from where we get our word “pneumatic”) and it is gender neutral; it’s an “it.” But in Hebrew, the word is ruach, and it is feminine, a “her.” Stories of God show us that God relates with us intimately, and in English, calling God “it” doesn’t give us that sense of intimacy, so when I talk about the Holy Spirit, I say “she.”
I think this story of Pentecost testifies to two truths about our existence as the Church. The first is that, like those first disciples, we naturally tend to want to stay together in the house. It’s not a bad thing, but it’s where we’re comfortable; it’s what we know. The early Church gathered in houses to worship God, share Holy Communion and recount stories of Jesus. When Luke tells us that these people were together in a house, that’s what he wants us to imagine they were doing. It makes sense: this is the last place we saw Jesus, so to speak, so we keep coming back here—this is where his presence is strongest for us.
This candle—called the Paschal (or Easter) candle—represents the presence of Christ. On Easter Vigil, we lit it in anticipation of his resurrection from the grave, telling stories of God’s deliverance throughout history. It has remained lit during the season of Easter to signify Jesus’ resurrected presence among us. However, today we will extinguish it, acknowledging that he has ascended to heaven and is not physically with us anymore. It’s a sobering reminder of what we are missing.
The second truth to which this story bears witness is that, in order for us to be true to our calling as Jesus disciples, we have to leave the house. That’s what the Spirit does for the disciples in Acts, and what she does for us: she drives us out. There was no promise of reward or threat of punishment laid on those disciples; the Spirit simply descended on them, and out they went. It is reminiscent of Jesus at his baptism—the Spirit descended on him, and as an immediate consequence, he went out into the wilderness to prepare to begin his work. That’s what Pentecost is for these first disciples of Jesus: it’s their baptism, the moment at which they receive God’s Holy Spirit. And, just like Jesus, she drives them out to announce God’s kingdom.
The same happens in our own baptism. We are washed with water and sealed with the Spirit, and it connects us to Jesus. Paul reminds us that in baptism, we are buried with Christ, and if we share in his death, we also share in his resurrection. Our baptism is the Spirit’s way of sending out, like those disciples, lit up like candles with the light of Christ.
At the vigil, the light of this Paschal candle was shared among us, illuminating the room. The light of a candle, when it is divided and shared, isn’t diminished, but strengthened. In the same way, Christ’s presence after his ascension into heaven is not less, but more, because it is shared among us. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, we bear the light of Christ to the world. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, we are the Body of Christ.
This is the miracle of Pentecost: not a mighty, rushing wind and hovering tongues of fire, but that 120 people left a house and began proclaiming the mighty acts of God. The miracle is that though Christ ascended into heaven 10 days before, he was still there. This is the still the miracle of Pentecost: even though Jesus is not here, he is here. He is in the bread and the wine, in water and the word. Through the gift of baptism, he is in this assembly. This good news is not for us—at least, not just for us; it is for a world anxiously waiting in pain and fear for a savior.
Notice the fire. It is always moving, always changing. It is alive. It can’t be pressed and dried between the pages of a book or preserved in a jar of formaldehyde. Likewise, the work of the Spirit in us—the work of faith—is not a thing so much as it is an action. Martin Luther said, “our faith is a living, busy, active, mighty thing.” (2) Our faith changes the world.
It’s tempting for me to stand up here and say that our mission as the Church is to put this faith to work; to capture the heat and light of this flame burning within us and harness it to work to establish God’s kingdom; but that’s wrong. That assumes that God’s kingdom is the work God has given us to do. In reality, God’s kingdom is the work for which we are created. God’s Church doesn’t have a mission; God’s mission has a Church.
We celebrate holidays like Pentecost to remind us that the reason we are here, gathered in this house, is not because Jesus thought it would be cool to be the president of some nifty club. The world cries out for help, and he has gathered us here to give it. Without his guidance, we don’t know what to do but sit here, maybe sing some songs and eat some food (albeit really, really good food). Thankfully, he has given us the Holy Spirit, and she knows what to do. She drives us out, prepares and sends us, so that God’s work is done through us, even when we have no idea what comes next.
So, Come Holy Spirit. Warm our hearts, kindle our spirits, let the light of Christ shine through us. Fill us up; send us out; continue the work of creation.