Father Donald Senior, CP

June 9: Pentecost Sunday

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Experiencing the Spirit

Acts 2:1-11; Ps 104:1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34; 1 Cor 12:3-7, 12-13; Jn 20:19-23

What did it feel like when you first fell in love? Or when you held your first newborn child in your arms? Or when you learned you were hired for a job you really wanted? “Like” is the operative word. When trying to describe a joyful experience to someone, we reach for metaphors or images that might convey something of the often-indescribable experience we have had.

How do you describe the ineffable experience of God’s Spirit taking hold of you? The readings for this Pentecost Sunday are full of images and metaphors that try to convey what it is like to feel God’s presence in such a powerful way.

The Acts of the Apostles presents a string of images portraying the experience of the first Pentecost: a “strong diving wind” sweeping through the house where the apostles and Mary are huddled; “tongues of fire” burning in their hearts. Perhaps most amazing of all is an urge to speak so powerfully and so eloquently that their words would be understood by Jewish pilgrims from all over the Mediterranean world who had come to Jerusalem for the festival of Pentecost (a feast celebrated 50 days after the Passover). 

Fired up by the Spirit, the apostles began to preach “the mighty acts of God,” to the amazement of the pilgrims: “Are not these people who are speaking Galileans? Then how does each of us hear them in his native language?” 

This experience of communicating God’s word across the divide of language and culture is at the heart of Luke’s message in the Acts of the Apostles. The Risen Christ told his disciples, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Now, driven by God’s own generous and expansive Spirit, the promise of salvation was about to be proclaimed to the world.

Paul the Apostle turns to another set of images to explain to his Christians in Corinth what the experience of the Spirit was like. He explains there are many spiritual gifts but only one Spirit; there are different forms of service but only one Lord; the human body has many members but one Spirit animates it and gives it meaning.

The Greek philosopher Aristotle described friendship as “two bodies with one soul.” In this passage we hear this Pentecost, Paul proclaims that all of us, as children of God, are animated by one Spirit: “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, we were all given to drink of one Spirit.”

John’s Gospel heard today give us yet another metaphor. When the Risen Jesus appears to his fearful disciples on that first Easter Sunday, he “breathes” on them the gift of the Spirit. “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

The Greek word “pneuma” is multi-dimensional, meaning “spirit,” “wind” or “breath.” All these meanings are in play as John’s Gospel tries to describe the impact of Jesus’ presence on those first disciples. Touched by God’s Spirit, the disciples were now sent into the world with the same message of burning love that consumed Jesus himself.

Every Pentecost the church adds to the biblical readings a beautiful ancient hymn, “Veni Sancte Spiritus” (“Come, Holy Spirit”), that dates to the beginning of the 13th century. It is filled with vivid images of the Spirit: “ray of light divine,” “comforter,” “most welcome guest,” “sweet refreshment,” “grateful coolness in the heat,” “solace in the midst of woe,” “healer of wounds,” “dew on our dryness,” “renewer of our strength.”

There is nothing harsh in all these metaphors and images that try to describe God’s loving presence in the person of the Spirit. For most of us, feeling God’s presence in a way that touches our hearts and stirs our emotions may not be an everyday occurrence. But the testimony of the saints and the heritage of our faith celebrated this Pentecost assures all of us that God’s love is indescribably beautiful and present even when we may not be aware of it.


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