Forty days after Easter, the church celebrates Ascension Day—the day Jesus ascended in the sky back to His heavenly Father. Ten days after that is Pentecost, the day when the Holy Spirit came down on all the disciples.
I don’t know much about church holidays besides the basics. And Ascension Day seems a strange one to celebrate. After observing Jesus crucified and buried only to have Him come back again, I imagine His friends experienced some layered emotions in the forty days they had with Him. Relief. Celebration. Hope. And then to see Him leave—though in a far different way this time—well, for me, I imagine less celebration and more sadness. Sure, He had defeated death. Yes, He had given reason to hope. But He’d left for good this time. That would have been hard to swallow.
And then there’s Pentecost, celebrated this year on May 15. I can’t even begin to try to explain this day. Thankfully, I think I am in good company. When Scripture talks about the Spirit, the writers use metaphor and simile, and verbs that aren’t exactly clearing up any ambiguities.
Throughout Scripture the Spirit is described as resting on someone, coming on powerfully, pouring down, leading, lifting up.
In the gospels, at Jesus’ baptism the Spirit descends like a dove. In a meeting with Nicodemus, Jesus compares it to the wind. And then at Pentecost itself, it’s described as a tongue of fire resting on all the disciples.
Basically, Scripture doesn’t provide what I want it to—clarity regarding this mysterious third person of the Trinity. Still, here, fifty days after Easter, something big happens. It’s a day that marks how this same Spirit that hovered before the creation of the world, that descended on Jesus when He began His public ministry, that led prophets, was poured down on Israel, that came powerfully over leaders, is now available to all of us.
Of all the ways it’s talked about, it’s the conversation Jesus has with Nicodemus that resonates with me the most.
“The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear the sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
This time of year finds me outside sitting in our screened-in porch often. The trees in our backyard finally have enough leaves to give some shade to the boys playing on the swing set, and I can sit and watch them do what little boys do best—laugh, and scheme, yell, and tumble—all from the comfort of the porch.
While sitting there, sometimes there’s a gust of wind that catches me by surprise. And when it does, all of the sudden, what can appear to be a two-dimensional world, comes to life, moving in a fluid, three-dimensional way. In an instant the branches of the trees, the grass in the yard, the sticky and slightly damp hair of two oblivious little boys lifts and moves, all connected by an invisible force we never saw coming.
It’s in moments like this that I catch an understanding, however slight, of what the Spirit might be like. Flames of fire over our heads, I have a harder time grasping. But a gust of wind that gets your attention, makes you catch your breath, causes you to stop and pay attention? An invisible force that, in one fell swoop, bonds everything to it, creating a connection and a link you may have otherwise missed? That I can wrap my head around. That is the Spirit.
Pentecost will remain a day curious to me in what happened. In what it looked liked. The Spirit, a mysterious but personal force, I will never fully get. But when I begin to see the Spirit as the wind it makes more sense. On this day, two thousand years ago, something happened. Something that made the observers and participants, catch their breath. Caused them to stop, pay attention and notice the tie that binds them all together, that unites them. That made their two-dimensional world, come together in three-dimensional fluidity.
This just may be the part of the Spirit we are meant to imitate the most. In a day where the norm in the Church is splits and factions, offering dissensions and taking issues, there is a day set aside for us to celebrate the exact opposite. A day where we commemorate our oneness. Our connectedness. Our movement initiated by and sustained by the mysterious Spirit that blows where it pleases.
What if this Pentecost we took a moment to stop, allowed ourselves to be caught up in the wonder of something happening in us and spite of us, around us and through us, and allowed the Spirit to join us with each other in ways bigger than ourselves? What if we saw our connectedness this day instead of our separateness?
This is Pentecost. This was the beginning of a movement far larger than the original disciples could have ever guessed. Today, let’s live like the unity in the Spirit trumps our disunity, and imagine the possibilities of what might happen when we do.