17 June 2022
There’s almost an embarrassment of Christian festivals in the months between Christmas and Pentecost. First Christmas of course, then Lent begins, followed by Good Friday and Easter. And just when we thought we could settle in for a run of normal Sundays, Pentecost starts.
In the gospels we read that Jesus died an ugly, humiliating criminal’s death, and his followers were scattered and afraid. Then we read of stories that he had come to life again. Some of the women who had followed him claimed they had seen and spoken to him. Then more of his friends and disciples had encounters with him, even the cynical ones like Thomas.
And then, he was gone. We read accounts of this in the gospels, and the Acts of the Apostles.
Once again his followers were alone, confused and afraid. But Jesus had said to wait for something he was going to send.
They waited. And then what Christians call the Holy Spirit burst down upon the fledgling church, an event we now celebrate as Pentecost. It came like wind, it came like fire. It entered the house where the disciples were huddled behind locked doors and filled them with power, joy and certainty. It changed them into people so filled with an uncontainable spirit they couldn’t help but share it.
That was all a long time ago. These days it feels to me like we are more cynical about religious experiences. So, what about mainstream Christians like us, who may be sincere and loyal but who are wearied and unravelled by modern life? What are we celebrating at Pentecost?
There are no tongues of flame resting on our heads, no wild, intoxicating winds blow down our locked doors. Few of us speak in tongues, or have even had much experience that we could point to as a profound and unmistakable encounter with the divine.
Are we celebrating the fact that we belong to a supportive and lively community that seeks something deeper than the accumulation of wealth or the pursuit of a good lifestyle? No, it goes further than that.
People who worship faithfully every week know that the Holy Spirit is still at large in the world. They know that broken relationships mend, that protest and creativity can change governments’ minds, that small groups can change the face of a suburb, that miracles still happen, and that grace breaks through.
But we need to let this happen. We need to make space for the Holy Spirit to come into our lives. This might be through personal and corporate prayer. It might be through building communities who together search for a deeper life. Or it might be by together tackling some of the issues of injustice that are so painfully evident in our world today. Or we could reach out to the stranger in our midst. Or it might be by worshipping, and being open to the surprising ways God communicates with us.
God is still out there, and still in here. God is in the most unexpected places and people. We may not see tongues of fire sitting on our heads, or feel a possessing wind blow in our shuttered, fearful doors. But when we put the effort into our lives with God, the effects can be almost as dramatic and profound.