We’re not done yet.
This is what I keep telling myself each Easter season. I have this mantra, “It’s the gospel of the 40 days. There’s another festival coming. We don’t have to wait until Christmas.”
Unfortunately the wider culture doesn’t celebrate Pentecost on a level with Christmas or Easter. No trees to decorate. No eggs to color. Just a holy day liturgical geeks attempt (unsuccessfully) to promote, while graduation and Memorial Day and life in general gather our greater attention.
It is in this moment seculosity rises and takes hold and doesn’t let go.
Those left waiting for the Spirit in these Easter days can keep in mind this.. Jesus stayed with the disciples after his resurrection. He stuck around and hung out.
Jesus stays with the disciples for 40 days after his resurrection, until his Ascension. He lives a middle life, remaining with while also readying for ascension. Apparently during this time, if the brief reports in Scripture are accurate, he spends his time eating and walking with the disciples, frequently telling them “not to fear.”
Lord have mercy, if that isn’t a word we need right now.
He also interprets the connection between his resurrected presence and his earthly ministry. Basically, “don’t you remember when I said?”
He also interprets the Hebrew Scriptures in light of his resurrection. “It says here, see how that’s like this now?”
This brief teaching tenure as the Resurrected One is enough to carry the early Christian community along for decades after the Ascension with little to no need for a “New Testament.” Eventually the gospels are written and various letters are collected. But for a long stretch, this gospel of the 40 days communicated from disciple to disciple was sufficient.
When Jesus departs, he sends another, the Holy Spirit, to lead them into all the truths he himself proclaimed during his ministry and resurrection appearances.
Perhaps the main thing to know about the Holy Spirit: They are the presence of Jesus+. The Spirit has an independence and vitality, no doubt. But first and foremost this life-giving and energizing presence extends and deepens the presence of Christ in his connection to his Holy Parent.
Now, you might wonder, how can Christ be extra present precisely by going away?
And that’s a great question. Let me offer one answer. It’s actually rather comforting to know even the disciples, who walked with Jesus and witnessed his crucifixion, had to experience his departure. They knew what it meant to be apart from Christ, alone.
This is all of us, it’s what we all know. I mean, isn’t it rather odd to look to this one person, Jesus, for all of us to look to this one person, Jesus, and expect so much from someone who isn’t ready-to-hand?
I might really like Thom Yorke of Radiohead. But I don’t expect everything good from him in the way I expect everything good from Jesus. And Thom Yorke is still around and available. Imagine if I looked for everything good from Sojourner Truth, or Benjamin Franklin.
So Jesus is unique both in how present he is to each believer, and how absent he is compared to our neighbor or spouse or child or parent. I can’t call Jesus up on the phone or set up a pastoral counseling session with him. Yet I talk to and about him constantly. It’s an important part of his presence to me that he isn’t right here.Something in this is what Ascension is about, and for.
And then there’s Pentecost. Pentecost is something altogether different than this, even if it is still centered in Jesus.
How to describe it? Well, when the Pentecost event happens, it works quite different than how some imagine. It’s not as if the disciples started speaking in strange, bizarre languages. Rather, they spoke in their own language. Meanwhile, the gathered and ethnically diverse group there in Jerusalem heard the gospel each in their own heart tongue.
Try to imagine this. You’re a stranger in a strange land. You’ve perhaps learned the trade language of the day (in our day, English; in their day, Greek or Latin). But as you are going about your business, suddenly you see someone who looks like a fishermen fresh in from the day’s catch. The kind of guy you have overheard speaking working class Aramaic with his buddies in the market.
But this guy is speaking about Jesus, in Aramaic, but you hear everything he says as if it were spoken in your own heart language: Phrygian, or Pamphylian, Arabic, Capadocian, Egyptian.
Why does the way it gets translated matter? Well, for one, there’s a lot of difference between suddenly speaking a language previously unknown to you, vs. hearing in your own heart language with comprehension that which another is speaking in their own tongue. The first puts the miracle squarely on the tongue of the miracle speaker. The second is a shared heart moment between speakers and hearers.
The second is a moment much like the Spirit Themself, whose personhood is wrapped up in making each person more of who they are in their shared relations.
That’s one thing. But another thing is the vitality of the moment. The Spirit enlivens transformation, change. The Spirit is on FIRE.
This is the part I’m always waiting for, and sometimes catch glimpses of, in my pastoral ministry. Precisely at the moment when I think I/we will not be understood. When that which we’re preaching is going to fall not on deaf ears but literally be exhausted in spaces of incomprehension. Instead suddenly we are heard, fathomed, known.
It’s hard waiting for this. It’s hard waiting those ten days after the Ascension. Ten days is basically forever (Jesus descended to the dead from Friday to Sunday… ten days is like Friday until the following Sunday). Ten days is enough to give up, to go back to whatever was before.
Ten days is enough to treat the holiday differently, as if it doesn’t change everything, as if the Spirit were ephemeral, ghostly, a still small wind tacking against a storm.
Yet here we are at Pentecost waiting. And the promise of the sending of the Spirit itself came through a very small breath of air, “I will send another, the Advocate.” Say that sentence out loud. See how much air it takes.
That’s all the wind it took for Jesus to make that promise. And from the promise, the Spirit arrives, continuing Christ’s presence and enlivening it and expanding it until we’re all breathless with Christ’s presence in the Spirit.
Sometimes I feel like everything is absence, Christ is away and not returning and never was. But then somebody speaks, telling their own good news story, and I hear it in a way that is just for me, and nothing is the same ever again, or ever can be.
That is Pentecost.