Reflection on Acts 2:1-21 for Pentecost Sunday 2012 by the Rev. Dr. Kate Hennessy-Keimig
Easter Sunday seems like a long time ago. Since Easter, I have moved from one home to another, one town to another, said good-bye to one congregation and have started getting to know another, and am wrapping up with my therapy clients in this practice at the same time I am in the process of getting ready to start my new job next month.
From Easter to Pentecost day is fifty days, days that have flown like the wind for me, but in retrospect, seem to wind far back in time. As I read this lesson from Acts, I find myself wondering what that same time span felt like for Jesus’ disciples. They too had been through lot of change and transition in the days between Easter and Pentecost. I’m guessing that they had many thoughts and feelings about Jesus, about themselves, about their place in the whole scheme of things.
The big time of transition for them actually started before Easter with the crucifixion and the events that led up to it. All the chaos and pain and betrayal, then Jesus had died, and was buried in the tomb, and for those three endless days there was sadness, grief, despair. There was fear and confusion, anxiety and worry. We might imagine, too that there were feelings of guilt and self-recrimination, thoughts of “How could I?” and “Why didn’t I?”
Then there was Easter morning. Shock, surprise and wonder…all expectations turned upside down in this wondrous undoing of death.
And in the forty days that followed, Jesus continues to present himself to his friends, letting them know that he was going to be leaving them in a physical sense, impressing on them that now it was going to be their turn to carry on his mission in the world. During this time with him, the disciples appear to develop a deeper understanding of what it meant to be “followers of the way."
Then that day came when Jesus did what he had been promising since after his resurrection, and he leaves them, as he tells them, to return to the Father. Ten days have now passed since he has gone from them again, not dead this time, but “present in absence” after his ascension.
The disciples are once again gathered as they were after the crucifixion. They seemed to have a sense that there was something larger than themselves that they must be about; that it was time to get organized, to get moving. They replace the vacancy in the leadership and seem to prepare for whatever comes next. I wonder if they were anxious, not so much about the forces outside themselves, but from the sheer magnitude of what lie before them. I wonder how they experienced that call to carry on Jesus’ mission in his place, how it was that it settled in them the knowledge that they were now the ones in charge of continuing Jesus' ministry to to forgive the sinners, to heal the sick, to feed the hungry and care for the poor? That it would be their job to speak truth to powerful, to stand for justice, to be the voice of compassion?
Luke says the Spirit came upon them with the sound of a "rushing wind" and with "tongues of fire" resting on each of them. This imagery of course calls us back to all those places in the Old Testament where, wind and fire are associated with the presence of God. As it was at the beginning of creation and in the history of Israel, the Spirit of God has been actively showing up, calling people into relationship. In the New Testament this Spirit shows up even more personally and intimately in Jesus, symbolized by baptism in “water and the spirit” and now present in wind and fire descending on the disciples.
The descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost was both a communal and an individual experience. It happened to all of them and it happened to each of them. Each disciple, filled with the spirit, was given the ability speak in common yet particular languages, allowing each to hear and understand one another, creating and strengthening the bonds of relationship, of community in and with God.
The Pentecost story is a story of individuals like Peter and the other disciples, but it is also the story of the church, it is our story. Like those in the upper room, each of us has received that same indwelling Spirit of God. Each of us and all of us are part of the grand sweep of the same story. At baptism we become part of the Christian community as we are baptized with water and the Spirit. This same spirit enlightens, illumines and unites us. We have many gifts, expressed in myriad ways, but we all belong to the one God who loves us beyond imagining and who set the grand story in motion.
As we move through the church year we celebrate touch points. Christmas -- the Incarnation, God stepping into history in a new way and changing forever the way we see God and the way we see ourselves. Then we hear the unfolding story of who this Jesus is, the great both/and who shows us both God is and who we can be, culminating in the story of Easter. This story of Jesus, the Incarnate One, loving us to the end, willing to suffer and die to earthly life so that we might know forever and always that death is never the end of the story.
And today the Pentecost story reminds us that Jesus is present still, incarnate not only in that time and place, but with us for all time, his Spirit among us and within us. It reminds us that we too, are an integral part of the story; that this spirit is ours by baptism. Those gifts of grace from Jesus that are part of our birthright as part of this lineage, given on this birthday of the church, empower and enable each of us to go and be God’s love to the farthest corners of the earth.