Pentecost(B): What are we Celebrating?
By: Chris Clow
Today is the only Holy Day in the entire liturgical calendar devoted to the Holy Spirit. Think about it – Jesus gets all the good feast days. Christmas lasts for 12 days (not to mention a whole season devoted to the buildup to it.) Lent is 40 days; Easter 50. Every day within the season of Easter is called the 3rd or 5th or even 7th ___-day of Easter.
What do we call the first day after Pentecost?
The Spirit really gets a bum rap, and it’s not really fair. We’re talking about a whole third of the Trinity, after all. Without the Spirit, there wouldn’t be a Church. It is the Spirit that continues to move in us today, continues to animate the Church and keep it alive. Even throughout the years of persecution and pain, doubt and division, scandal and schism—Christianity is still around.
Today is the Church’s birthday. So, what are we celebrating?
In the Gospel reading, Jesus says that the Spirit will lead us all to truth. I will admit, sometimes it’s difficult for me to believe that. I’ve been given a class of students to teach this semester (something I’m pretty sure they’ll never let me do again), and it has truly been an awe-inspiring to see how difficult it is to try and lead someone to any kind of truth. No wonder Jesus got frustrated with his disciples so often. And in times where I am just exhausted by work, by the stressors of life, it can become harder for me to strive to see the Spirit at work—both in myself, and in those around me.
I can sympathize with the disciples in the upper room that Pentecost day. All they had worked for still seemed to be lost, and while they had even seen Jesus fully resurrected and taken up into Heaven, they weren’t sure what to do next. He was their teacher, the one who knew what to do. Now what were they supposed to do with him gone?
I bet that for a lot of us, the feeling is mutual—when we get so consumed with the busy-ness of our lives that it makes us harder to see the greater purpose; when we get so weighed down with the concerns of the world that it’s harder for us to see our neighbor who is also struggling with us, who we might need to help carry, or who might need to help carry us. It can be hard to believe that the Spirit is still at work in a world that can seem so broken some days.
Yet, I know the fault is with me, and not with God. The problem is not that the Spirit has stopped moving, but more likely that I have stopped listening for it, even for just a bit. So, in this (one-day) season of Pentecost, how do we get better at listening to the Spirit? I’m no expert, but I think we have some clear lessons in Scripture on how to start.
The first thing: we need space. That can be a hard thing to find in our lives, and not just finding the free time—there is a constant temptation to fill up our lives with all kinds of excess and other random things. Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with material possessions, but it sure does seem like we can get out of hand with it. The band “Arcade Fire” bemoans this in their song Everything Now: “Every room in my house is filled with shit I couldn’t live without” – and there are times where I find that line hits a little too close to home for me. I’m betting I’m not alone in that.
It helps to remember that when Jesus called his apostles, he didn’t tell them to pack a suitcase, much less a second pair of sandals. Does that mean that we too need to follow in such an example of poverty? I don’t know. As my wife and I prepare for the birth of our child in a few months, I think it’d be a rather foolish thing to suddenly decide to sell the house, bed, and all the other things that will help us provide for this new life. But maybe we need to not be so attached to them. The things we possess are, at best, means to an end. If they help us to become happier, better, more loving people, then great. If they don’t, then what are we doing with them? We need to keep on clearing out our clutter, both spiritually and physically, to help us listen better to the Spirit move in our lives.
The second thing: we need community. The apostles before Pentecost were huddled in fear, yes, but also together. The Spirit did not come to each of their individual houses, looking for them on their own. It found them in community. Jesus wasn’t kidding when he said “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20).
Furthermore, that community doesn’t require some sort of saintly perfection in us. The Spirit didn’t come when the disciples were feeling particularly courageous—it showed up precisely when they were afraid. They were lost, and not sure what to do now that their Master was gone, but they still had each other. The Spirit did not ask for perfection from them; rather, it took what they were able to offer (even if it was just their presence) and strengthen them for what they would need. So to for us, even when we maybe aren’t “feeling it,” or don’t feel like we belong in this community of faith—the Spirit is still calling us, too, wanting to work in us all the more. God is not first seeking perfection; God first seeks us, as we are, and works with us, as we are, to help us become the best we can be.
Finally: we need to get out. Look, the wind and flame of Pentecost are an incredible sign of the Spirit’s presence with the apostles, but to me, that’s not the miracle. The miracle of Pentecost is that these sad, scared Apostles got out of the upper room, and went to spread the Gospel. The Spirit is does not want us to just stay within this community, but to share the Gospel message with the world. Much as no one puts a light under a basket, but lets it out to shine (to paraphrase Jesus), so too is the Spirit meant, like a driving wind, to drive us out into the world. You know, that world that can so often drag us down, that can worry and stress us out, that world which exhausts. I often feel like pulling the metaphorical covers over my head and trying to drown the world out, but this is not a Spirit-filled desire. I need to be able to go out into the world, even the parts of it I would rather ignore. We need to be able to encounter the world, and share the Gospel news to all we meet, especially to those who are in need, even when we might rather not.
What are we celebrating? That the Spirit is continuing to dwell with us still, and that we are given a chance today to do as the early disciples did—to testify to the Gospel message of Jesus. May the Spirit renew us all this Pentecost.
Chris Clow is a campus minister and liturgical musician at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa. When he isn’t composing music or begging students to sing in his choir, he likes to play games of all sorts, watch his hometown St. Louis Cardinals, spend time with his wife Emily and their pets, and prepare with joy (and just a touch of anxiety) for the arrival of their first child in September.