Monday, May 16, 2005


Chris T. has commented that his favorite church celebration was yesterday, that being Pentecost, the yearly recognition of the Holy Spirit descending with tongues of fire on the disciples in Acts 2. Many also call this moment the founding of the church, although the text does not explicitly lend itself to such an interpretation. Instead, church tradition recognizes it as such, but I'm not going to make too big a fuss over that. Some also believe that before this moment the Holy Spirit was not in the world, which is also debateable even in scripture. The Spirit of God moves over the primordial waters in Genesis 1 and breathes new life into the dry bones in Ezekiel 37. Plus there is some discrepancy as to when and how exactly the disciples 'receive' the Spirit (contrast John 20 with Acts 2, for instance).

In addition, Chris laments that Pentecost is not regarded with as much flare as Christmas or Easter (I'm not sure how many people would have even worn red yesterday had I not said something the Sunday before). I replied that Christmas and Easter are more popular first in part because they have so much commercialism caked up around them, and second in part because they’re Jesus-focused. Beyond the centrality of Jesus to Christian tradition, Jesus is easier to imagine because he was human. So we gather around a baby in a manger and a dying bloodied mess on a cross because they are, to varying degrees, easier to relate to. We can at least portray these events, however inaccurately, through our own thoughts and actions. And I'll forego a rant about a tendency to skip all the stuff that Jesus did in between.

The Holy Spirit? What’s that? How to imagine or portray such a thing except through indirect means. We can either speak of the HS in terms of the Pentecost story because it involves a human component or through symbols such as fire, water, or breath. Due to its intangible nature we cannot for certain say, ‘Look, here is the Holy Spirit,’ all by itself. We attach the Holy Spirit to something else in order to make some sense of it.

So Happy Pentecost, a day late. I don't know that anyone in the history of the world has ever said Happy Pentecost, but I hope that yours was.