Next Sunday is the feast of Pentecost. When I read the story of the first Pentecost in Acts 2, several aspects of the story strike me. Here are three of them.
First, the disciples were gathered in one place. Why were they gathered together? Because Jesus told them to. At the Ascension, Jesus directed them to return to Jerusalem and wait together for the coming of the Spirit. So, what really drew them together in that upper room that day was their shared faith in Jesus. Isn’t that what gathers us together in our churches–especially on Saturday afternoons and Sunday mornings?
But a good question to ask is this: How were the disciples gathered? Scripture tells us they were praying together. This means they were probably singing psalms and, in between, sharing their personal experiences of Jesus. Perhaps they were also sharing their dreams and hopes as well as their fears and questionings. How would they survive without Jesus in their midst? What would this Holy Spirit be like? What should be their next step to take?
The point is: The disciples who were gathered together in that room were a lot like us: questioning, uncertain, and painfully in touch with their human limitations. I find that very consoling. The Holy Spirit did not descend upon the disciples when they were confident, sure, and strong, but when they were huddled together, uncertain, and vulnerable. Pentecost reminds us that the Holy Spirit can break into our lives at any time—even when our lives seem to be unraveling or falling apart.
Another aspect of this story that amazes me is how the Spirit came: Amid howling winds, a ground-shaking earthquake, and tongues of fire. A modern movie director would have a hay day using computer-generated “special effects” to dramatize this event! It’s as if God were trying to impress upon the disciples (and us!) that the Spirit is Someone who will not be controlled! The Spirit will not be tamed! We can ask ourselves: Do we ever try to control or tame God? Do we ever think things like this: “If I say this particular prayer, God will do what I ask him to do.” Or “I’ve been a decent person for many years. Now I can settle down and take it easy. Let others do the work of saving the world.” Or, in contrast, do we, like the early disciples, allow God’s Spirit free reign in our lives? Do we allow our lives to be blown open by divine love?
The third aspect of Pentecost that strikes me is this: The disciples were sent. But the word “sent” is too mild. The disciples were almost catapulted out of that upper room and into the streets, so on fire were they with the power of the Spirit. So great was their joy and enthusiasm that many of the bystanders thought they were drunk. So persasive was their speech, that 3,000 were converted to the gospel in a single day. Some homily!
Pentecost reminds us that the coming of the Spirit is a demanding event. It demands that we become new people, we see with new eyes, we speak with new tongues, we choose with new hearts. The coming of the Spirit connects us to everyone and everything. It demands that we carry in our hearts the sufferings of the ill, the joys of the jubilant, the dreams of children, the hopes of the young, the wisdom of the elderly, and the hunger for peace and justice for all.
For this feast I’ve chosen a relatively new song by Francesca Battistelli called “Holy Spirit.” As we listen to and pray the words of this song, let us ask Jesus to send again the Spirit into our personal lives, our families, our parishes, our nations, our world.
Does anything touch you in this reflection on Pentecost or in the song?