Sunday, May 23, 2010


May 23, 2010

+ Today, of course, we commemorate the feast of Pentecost. It’s a big day in the Church Year. The fifty days of Easter are now officially over. By all outward appearances it is different. We are surrounded by the color red today in the church I often joke that this Sunday often feels like a Communist Youth Rally with all the red we have today.

But today, is important, because today we celebrate the descent of the Holy Spirit among the disciples. This feast today is not just a Christian celebration. The feast of Pentecost was celebrated long before Christians came on the scene. Originally it was a harvest feast celebrated 50 days after the Passover. The word “Pentecost” refers to the Greek word for 50. It was the feast on which the early Jews offered to God the first fruits of their harvests.

Now that is meaningful to us Christians and what we celebrate on this day—50 days after Easter. It is meaningful that we celebrate the Holy Spirit with this feast named after the feast in which the first fruits were offered to God. After all, those first Christians who gathered in that upper were truly the first fruits of the Church. But the real question we might find ourselves asking this Pentecost Sunday is: who is the Holy Spirit? After all, we in the Church—especially in the Episcopal Church—simply don’t talk much about the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is one of those seemingly forgotten “persons” of the Trinity. We don’t think of the Spirit as we should. Whenever we talk of spirits or anything spiritual, we instantly think of heady, other-worldly issues. Most of us are pretty well-grounded. We can relate fairly well to God as parent. Or we can relate better to God as Incarnate God—as we discover God in Jesus—a God who takes on flesh like our flesh, who suffered like we suffer and died like we will die. Or we can even relate to Jesus specifically, though more often than in these last few years we have heard much talk about separating the so-called “historical Jesus” from the “spiritual Christ” and other such talk that really doesn’t help the mission of the Church much. But when it comes to God as Spirit, our first reaction, no doubt, is one of distance.

The Spirit seems to some of us like a wispy mirage in our thoughts rather than something solid that we can cling to when we need to. Over the years, I’ve heard some very strange explanations of who the Holy Spirit is and how we should relate to this manifestation of God. When I was in Sunday School (this was in the Lutheran Church) as a child, I remember very distinctly, a Sunday School teacher telling us that if we prayed to the Holy Ghost—that’s what we called the Holy Spirit back then—the Holy Ghost would leave us. Now, I have no idea where that woman got that idea, but it, of course, frightened me, because the Holy Ghost was difficult enough to figure out as a kid.

I, of course, now know better. We can pray to the Holy Spirit, since the Spirit is God, after all.

It wasn’t all that long ago that I heard—in shocked disbelief—an Episcopal priest I know describe the Holy Spirit as “something like Casper the friendly Ghost.” To be fair, I think she was trying to create an image of something gentle and kind for the people she was speaking to—which were adults by the way, and not children. But it just proved to me that even those of us who are priests in the Church might not fully understand who the Spirit is any better than anyone else. When it comes to the Holy Spirit, we all find ourselves grasping and struggling to define who and what the Spirit is in our lives.

The Spirit can be elusive and strange and sometimes we might have a hard time wrapping our minds around the Spirit. But it is clear from the words of Jesus before he ascends back into heaven what the role of the Spirit is: Although Jesus might no longer be with us physically as he was when he walked with the disciples, he does remains with us in his spirit.

And this Spirit comes to us often—for example, in our Eucharistic prayer today, you will hear me say, ‘We pray you, Gracious God, to send your Holy Spirit upon these gifts that they may be the Body of Christ and his Blood of the New Covenant.” The technical term for this action is the “epiclesis.” It is the action in which we call upon God to send the Spirit upon the bread and wine. In more High Church Episcopal Churches, a bell would be rung at that moment, to signal everyone to pay attention—something important was happening. The Epiclesis is important for us because it is a sign that the Holy Spirit is working here in our church every time we gather together for the Eucharist.

Jesus, at his ascension said that he will leave—we will not be able to touch him and feel him and listen to his human voice again. But he is leaving something amazing in his place. In a sense what happens with the Descent of Jesus’ Spirit upon us is the fact that we now have the potential to be prophets. The same Spirit which spoke to Ezekiel, which spoke to Isaiah, which spoke to Jeremiah, which spoke to Moses, also can now speak to us and be revealed to us just as it was spoke and was revealed to those prophets from the Hebrew Bible. That is who the Spirit is in our midst. The Spirit we celebrate today—and hopefully every day—is truly the spirit of the God that came to us and continues to come to us—first to those prophets in our Hebrew past, then in the person of Jesus and finally in that rushing wind and in that rain of burning flames and here at the altar in our Eucharist.

It is through this Spirit that we come to know God in ways we might never have before. God’s Spirit comes to us wherever we may be in our lives—in any situation or frustration. God’s Spirit is with us, as Jesus promised, always. Always. And it is through this Spirit that God comes to know us as well.

For those of us who want to grasp these experiences—who want to have proof of them—the Spirit doesn’t fit well into the plan. We can’t grasp the Spirit. We can’t make the Spirit do what we want it to do. In that way, the Spirit truly is like the Wind that came rushing upon those first disciples.

So, how do we know how the Spirit is working in our lives? Well, as Jesus said, we know the tree by its fruit. In our case, we know the Spirit best through the fruits God’s Spirit gives us.

I can say I have, in fact, experienced the Spirit very profoundly many times in my life. For me, the Spirit of God comes to me not in a noisy, raucous way, but rather in a quiet, though just as intense, way. The Sprit of God as I have experienced it has never been a “raining down” so to speak, but rather a “welling up from within.” And more than anything, when the Spirit draws close, I am filled with a true sense of hope and joy. When the future seems bleak and ugly, the Spirit can come in and make everything worth living again.

No doubt everyone here this morning has felt a similar experience of God’s Spirit, although you might not have readily recognized that experience as God’s Spirit. Maybe it was the joy you felt when a child or grandchild was born. Maybe it was a sense of calm coming to you in the midst of a difficult time in your life. Maybe it was a comforting hand on your shoulder when you were sorrowing or a bit of advice you needed for some problem you had been carrying with you for some time. Or possibly, it is here at this altar, when we gather together and receive these gifts and then feel renewed and rejuvenated to go out form here and share that hope and joy that we receive here at this altar with others.

This is how God’s Spirit comes to us. The Spirit does not tear open the ceiling and force its way into our lives. The Spirit rather comes to us just when we need the Spirit to come to us.

So, during this week of Pentecost, look for the gifts of the Spirit of Jesus in your life and in those around you. Open yourself to God’s Spirit and let it flow through you like a caressing wind. And remember the true message of the Spirit to all of us—whenever it seems like God is distant or nonexistent, that is when God might possibly be closest of all, dwelling within us, being breathed unto as it was on those first disciples.

On this feast of Pentecost—this feast of the Spirit of God—give thanks to God for all the many ways the Spirit is manifested in your life.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...