The Solemnity of Pentecost

Today’s readings

pentecostThere’s an old prayer that I wonder if people even know any more. I learned it when I was in eighth grade, preparing for my Confirmation. It goes like this (and please pray along with me if you know it):

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful;
Enkindle in them the fire of your love.
Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created,
And you shall renew the face of the earth.

This is a prayer that I pray every day, and I hope you’ll come to learn it too, if you don’t already know it. Because we are a people desperately in need of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

The Apostles were just like us in that regard. They too were in need of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. They didn’t know what they were waiting for, but they knew they were waiting for something, because Jesus told them to wait in the city until they would be clothed with power from on high. That was the message that he gave them as he ascended into heaven. And so they gathered together in those days after Jesus died and rose and ascended and they waited for that power from on high. They waited because they were powerless without Jesus. They waited because they didn’t know what else to do. And they were rewarded for their expectant waiting.

We too are waiting. Which doesn’t mean that we’re just sitting around waiting for something to happen. We are waiting, like the Apostles, with great expectation. All the earth is waiting. Whenever we pause to catch a breath, we can feel that waiting, that expectation, a groaning for God to do a God-thing. We wait for an end to war and all the world’s miseries; we wait for healing of our church’s brokenness; we wait for unity in our families’ divisions, an end to nature’s devastation, and we wait for ourselves to reach the goal of our lives’ search for meaning. We are waiting, and with the Apostles, we pray longingly, “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful…”

One of the ways to look at the Holy Trinity is that the Father is the Lover, the Son is the Beloved, and the Holy Spirit is the love between the Father and the Son. Since God is love, this caricature of the Trinity makes some sense, even though it just begins to scratch the surface of who God is. So the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles at that first Pentecost, which is the same Spirit that abides in the Church today and is poured out on all baptized believers, this continual outpouring of the Holy Spirit was always intended by God because it is a sacrament of God’s love for us.

The love of God through the Spirit enabled those first believers to boldly proclaim the marvelous deeds of God, and enabled all of their hearers to understand them in their own language. Love is that universal language that we all recognize because it is the language of the One who created us, so it is no wonder that everyone understood them. We too speak with that same language when we reach out to our brothers and sisters who are lonely, or hurting, or impoverished, or marginalized or just plain forgotten. If all the world is to come to know the Gospel and its Author, Jesus Christ, then we have to proclaim that Gospel in beautiful acts of love for every person God puts in our path. Then just as those who spoke different languages understood the Apostles’ preaching, all this modern world – which does not speak the language of faith – will come to know and understand our words and actions through love. We cry out with every breath to our God, “Enkindle in us the fire of your love!”

God created all of the world good, because it was a creation of his love for us. We’ve all heard the great Genesis story of the creation of the world. God breathed the world and all its wonders into existence, most especially the greatest of his creations, humankind. That creation, though, was never complete until the coming of the Holy Spirit. The great Paschal Mystery of Christ’s incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension all were necessary so that, having returned to the Father, the Son could send the Holy Spirit, that One who is the love among the Trinity, to the earth so that all the earth could be God’s new creation. The Apostles were witnesses to that new creation.

Because creation didn’t stop in Genesis. New life is being born into existence in every single moment. Right now, somewhere, a baby cries as it takes its first breath. Right now, somewhere, a tiny sprout of green herbage pokes its head through the soil on its way to becoming a huge tree. Right now, somewhere, the Holy Spirit is working on someone’s heart, tugging at them to become what they have been created for. And we are witnesses to that new creation. We pray with the Apostles, “Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created!”

But what makes the need for the Holy Spirit so evident in our world, though, is the many ways that we are all bruised and broken. Throughout history, humankind had turned away from God, time and time again. Every action of God was meant to intervene and turn us back to him. But it never came to pass fully until he sent his only Son to be our Redeemer. The apostles who gathered in that room, waiting for the power from on high, knew our Redeemer personally. They were longing for the renewal of their own nation, not fully knowing God’s plans for them.

auschwitzrebirthBut that need for renewal never went away, and we have seen death and pain and brokenness all around us. One of our young people this week showed me a picture of the concentration camp at Auschwitz. The camp had been devoid of vegetation during its heyday, for want of a better term. But the picture she showed me had green plants poking up right next to the horrible buildings put there by the Nazis. Her chaplain commented that that was a sign of the earth trying to heal itself. And through the action of the Holy Spirit, we can see creation in so many ways trying to heal itself. Right here, there are people trying to turn away from addictions or patterns of sin. Right now, we have parishioners and friends in the hospital recovering from injury or illness. Right now, there are people among us working to restore broken relationships. The earth and all of creation are devastated at times, but the Holy Spirit never tires of renewing it. We too can pray, “Renew the face of the earth!”

Today’s second reading makes it clear that the Holy Spirit is active in all of us, each in different ways. There are different spiritual gifts, different forms of service, different ministries, different workings. But there is one and the same God who works to produce all of them in everyone, through the Holy Spirit. That Spirit fills our hearts and sets them on fire with the love of God. That same spirit makes us into God’s new creation and renews each of us in God’s image every day. We indeed are a people constantly in need of the love and grace of the Holy Spirit, and we should pray every day,

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful;
Enkindle in them the fire of your love.
Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created,
And you shall renew the face of the earth. Amen.