A Different Pentecost

Pentecost is celebrated as "the birthday of the Church." The John Gospel presents a sort of reversal: instead of blowing out a candle, Jesus blows the Spirit into his followers.

The Scripture

John 20:19-23
interpreted by Deborah

The evening of the day that Mary Magdalene saw the Risen Lord, the disciples were huddled together with the doors locked, afraid of being discovered. And then Jesus appeared in their midst.

“Peace be with you,” he said. Then he showed them his hands and his side — and the disciples were delighted to see the Lord for themselves.

“Peace be with you,” Jesus repeated, “As I was an apostle of the Father, so now I send you as apostles.”

Then he breathed upon them, as God had breathed life to the clay at creation, as Spirit’s breath enlivened the dried bones in Elijah’s vision.

“Accept the Holy Spirit,” he said, “If you banish anyone’s guilt, it is gone; if you hold on to the guilt, it remains.”

Photo of a flower

Reflection by Deborah Beach Giordano
June 5, 2017

A Quiet Pentecost

Pentecost communityWhat kind of Pentecost is this? Where’s the excitement? What happened to the howling wind, the searing flames, the blinding lights? Where’s that whole holy firestorm that rained down on the disciples’ heads?

This version is downright boring.

Instead of noise and fireworks, Jesus himself appears, quietly and without fanfare, inside a locked room, blesses his disciples, and — Whoosh! gently breathes upon them.

That’s it. Yawn.

However, as is so often the case in the Gospels, that’s not exactly all there is to it.

This simple act endows those present with the Holy Spirit. Made in Christ’s image, they will now go forth as He did: emissaries of the Good News of God’s love.

Gently — but significantly — changed.

Immediately!

I like the subtlety of this version — as well as its immediacy. This doesn’t occur fifty days after the Morning of the Empty Tomb, but that very same night. There is no delay; the disciples aren’t left to wonder and worry and rely on hearsay: the risen Lord appears to them when they needed Him the most.

In the midst of a terrible time, Jesus calms his followers’ fears; he is with them, despite his apparent absence; they are not alone, despite their apparent isolation; they are not powerless, despite their apparent vulnerability.

The Lord’s presence is an embodiment of the greeting he gives to them at the outset: shalom. “Peace!” he declares: “All is well and all will be well. Settle down. Take a deep breath. Don’t freak out.”

It’s a message we can all appreciate.

Gently Powerful

Pentecost quilt by Linda SchmidtThis version of “the Gift of the Spirit” also offers us a reasonable expectation of how the Divine is present in our lives. Unlike the Pentecost experience, it doesn’t crackle or pop, it doesn’t stun the disciples or scorch them or cause them to scream and shout. And yet this is every bit as powerful and effective in setting them to their work.

It didn’t require high drama.

As Isaiah realized in his experience on the mountainside, God often reveals godself in stillness; quietly, softly. Love’s lasting power comes to us not with a thunderclap, but tenderly, sweetly; as gently as a sigh.

That is the glorious power of this version of the Gift of the Spirit: its tenderness. Jesus offers it to the disciples in a whisper, Whoosh! as a gentle breeze — not a hurricane. They are not blown away by the experience, but drawn closer.

“Accept the Holy Spirit,” the Lord says. He does not insist, but invites.

And from there … the rest is up to us. If we say “yes,” to the Lord, we shall have power: to forgive, to restore, to heal. This gift is an opportunity and a responsibility — perhaps, too, a challenge.

Listen!

Be still and know that I am God!
      ~ Psalm 46:10

light heartThe final scene of this “peaceful Pentecost” is silence. The disciples do not speak in tongues, they do not ask questions or declare their fidelity — they don’t even praise God for Jesus’ return! They are quiet.

Perhaps that is the ultimate power of the Spirit: to convey to us the wisdom of silence. In silence we can listen, and we can hear. We can hear what others have to say, and we can hear what our hearts have to say.

In silence, perhaps, if we are wise and greatly blessed, we can be still and know God.

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah 

Suggested Spiritual Exercises

Shhh! Be still. Let your heart be at peace.