Year C, Pentecost, 9 June 2019
Trinity Church on the Green
WHEN WE BREATHE TOGETHER, by Jan Richardson
A Blessing for Pentecost Day
This is the blessing we cannot speak by ourselves.
This is the blessing we cannot summon by our own devices,
cannot shape to our own purposes, cannot bend to our own will.
This is the blessing that comes when we leave behind our aloneness,
when we gather together, when we turn toward one another.
This is the blessing that blazes among us when we speak the words strange to our ears,when we finally listen into the chaos, when we breathe together
at last. (1)
Happy Pentecost. Today is often called the birthday of the church. It’s a day when we all can wear red, the color of the Holy Spirit, the color of fire. It is a day where in some churches, our reading from Acts gets read in many different languages all at once – to reenact the chaos that must have taken place back so many years ago.
The word itself – Pentecost – is a transliteration of the Greek word pentekostos, which means “fifty.” Pentecost comes fifty days after Easter.
We left off last week with the disciples watching Jesus ascend last week. There they were, left behind by Jesus, trying to figure out what to do next. And then, suddenly, a violent wind comes rushing through. Tongues as of fire rest on each of their heads, and they are filled with the Holy Spirit. They are given the sudden ability to speak in other languages. As a friend of mine sums it all up, “apparently it was such a scene that some onlookers thought the disciples were drunk, at 9 am. This is how the church comes into being. What a story!”
Ultimately, today is the Feast of the Holy Spirit – the Advocate, the comforter, the disrupter! I invite you today to reflect on what or who exactly the Holy Spirit is to you?
I will admit that for much of my life, I was a little confused by the Holy Spirit – or the Holy Ghost, if you will. The Father and the Son I could imagine. But the Holy Spirit? I was less clear.
In our Episcopal tradition, Holy Spirit, as the Third Person of the Trinity, is believed to be God at work in the world and in the church even now. The Holy Spirit was revealed in the Old Covenant as the giver of life and the One who spoke through the prophets. The Holy Spirit is revealed through the New Covenant as “the Lord who leads us into all truth and enables us to grow in the likeness of Christ.” We recognize the presence of the Spirit when we confess Jesus Christ as Lord and are brought into love and harmony with God, with ourselves, with our neighbors and with all of creation.”
In our church, we call upon the Holy Spirit when one is ordained a deacon, priest or bishop. We also always call upon the Holy Spirit as part of the Eucharistic Prayer (a moment known as the Epiclesis) – here the Holy Spirit enables the prayers of the people to make bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. The Holy Spirit can therefore descend and change people and things – the Holy Spirit can disrupt our business as usual.
Have you ever been able to feel the presence of the Holy Spirit? In prayer, or worship or song? In a holy space, or in a crowd of people?
The Holy Spirit is often translated/thought of as “Breath” of God (from the Hebrew Ruach). In this sense the Spirit is the creating and sustaining breath or wind of God. The Holy Spirit is the active, living, moving part of God – indeed, the Wisdom of God. Some also like to think of the Holy Spirit as the feminine element of an often masculinized Trinity: the feminine Sophia.
So, the Holy Spirit filled the disciples on the Day of Pentecost, and they began speaking in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. And the crowd gathered is “bewildered,” “amazed and astonished.” I once read where someone suggests that maybe the disciples weren’t actually suddenly able to speak languages they had never spoken before, but that the Holy Spirit made it so that everyone’s ears were opened in a way that all could understand each other despite the difference in languages. Wouldn’t it be great if that happened now? Even though most of us here speak English, we don’t always understand each other – what if we could all hear each other for exactly what we are trying to say and mean – wouldn’t that be great?
Pentecost is the inbreaking of God’s purpose for all of humanity. Pentecost brings together all humanity in understanding, despite differences. In the month of June, as we commemorate Pride and the 50th anniversary of Stonewall this week, we need Pentecost – we need understanding despite differences. Not everyone there on that day was convinced that a good thing was happening – some, in their amazement, thought that the disciples were drunk! Peter had to stand up and say, “no, we’re not drunk – we are the living fulfillment of the promise of God.”
We don’t get to hear the part that follows this passage: that 3000 get baptized that day, inspired and formed by the Holy Spirit chaos. The Holy Spirit blew through a house in which once strangers stood, now formed into a community by its fiery love. On this Pentecost Day, may we sense the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and in our community. In our culture of individuality, may the Holy Spirit unite us together in loving community, to be the community of God, and the Body of Christ in the world.
1 Jan Richardson, from Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons