A reflection on the feast of Pentecost by The Rev. Camille Hegg
The Collect for today reads that, ”…on this day you opened the way of eternal life to every race and nation by the promised gift of your Holy Spirit…..”
The story of this day is well known in Christian circles. The disciples had an experience which moved them to have some clarity about their mission and how to go about accomplishing it in the world.
As a child when I heard someone say “eternal life” or “everlasting life,” I imagined an endless stream of years. It was time as I knew it then, but with much improved conditions: no sickness, arguing, death, poverty, hunger, but lots of fun things to do. Since I have always liked to sing I imagined I would be in a choir of angels. But everything was just better.
As I got older I started thinking, pondering. Somewhere along the way I decided that eternity is too long a time for this loving God I learned about at church to hold a grudge and send someone to hell.
I began to think there is more to eternal life than an endless string of years and activities. It seemed to me that eternal life is not something that may or may not be granted after death as a reward for good behavior. Eternal life has to do with actions and responses here on earth that don’t go away, are not changed, just because the person – someday me – dies.
Once I was visiting someone in the hospital and only on that day I took a notion to leave by a side door which I almost never used. When I got outside to the steps and the sidewalk to the parking lot, there was a parishioner sitting on the steps crying. I slowed down; she obviously didn’t see me. I approached her very quietly and gently said, “Is there something I can do for you?” She looked up and smiled and said, “God told you to come this way, right?” I said I couldn’t explain it and that yes, I usually leave by the front entrance.
We talked for a few minutes and she never said anything about what had brought her to the sidewalk steps to cry. After a couple of minutes’ I stood to leave. She stood up and hugged me and said, “I will never forget this.”
Years later when I was preparing to leave that church for another call, she hugged me and said she had never forgotten what it had meant to her that I spoke to her that day. As she hugged me she whispered, “The Holy Spirit brought you that day.” That does seem like a work of the Holy Spirit and apparently nothing had changed her mind either. It seems eternal to me. I was only the one privileged enough to have an idea to go out that door.
Over the years I feel more and more convinced, assured that ‘eternal life’ is not a marker, nor a yard stick, nor a set of checks that offsets the x-marks which keep score and will be tallied when I die.
God sees past, present and future all at the same time. We don’t. Everything is present for God. Eternal life is the ability to see life as God sees it and maybe after we die we see things that way, too. Now we get only a glimpse every now and then and those glimpses come as they will. We can’t create them. I think she was right, that was the Holy Spirit that brought breath to me, inspired me, to take another exit that day. That is what won’t change; that is eternal.
I used to assume that eternity is static, not changing. But eternity is that which doesn’t go away even if one dies or forgets an event. That eternity implies life, movement, growth.
There is a beautiful prayer in the burial service which is that we pray that the person who has died will go “from strength to strength..” That phrase expresses a faith that life is always moving, changing, learning. Another prayer states that was believe that things have changed, not ended.” I think those are great prayers for us everyday.
Knowledge of God is not acquiring something or information. It is an ever deepening relationship with God. The love, power and wisdom of God are infinite and can never be complete. The wind of the Holy Spirit is forever breathing into us and into creation.