The Day of Pentecost
TEXT: Acts 2:1-21
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. (Acts 2:1-4)
During the past six months or so, the Revised Common Lectionary has led us on a remarkable journey with the Lord.
Throughout the season of Advent, we anticipated his birth.
During the short season of Christmas, we witnessed that birth, and rejoiced with the shepherds who came to adore the holy Child. And yes, what we witnessed was a miracle—not only the miracle of birth, but the miracle of God becoming flesh, taking on our human form.
During Epiphany, we heard about Jesus’ first visit to the Jerusalem Temple, when he was still a tiny infant. That was when Simeon predicted his future and Anna the prophetess blessed him.
We began the Season of Lent by following Jesus into the wilderness. Forty days later, we watched as he entered Jerusalem, riding on a donkey. And then began that holiest of weeks—that week which culminates in the resounding cry that we hear on Resurrection morning: “Alleluia! Christ is risen! Christ is risen, indeed!”
With these words, the Season of Easter begins—a season during which we celebrate the good news that Jesus lives.
Yes, we’ve been on quite a journey over these past six months. We’ve not only heard the story of Jesus, but also lived it along with his first disciples, witnessing through their eyes the landmark events of his life.
And in this story that we’ve been re-living for half a year, we have once again experienced the central mystery of our faith—the story of the Incarnation, of “Emmanuel,” of “God with us.” We’ve been reminded that, in Christ Jesus, the Creator of the universe became one of us.
As the Church has always insisted, Jesus was fully and absolutely human, even though he was fully and absolutely God, as well. We may not completely understand that truth, but we celebrate it, anyway—just as Christians have done for over 2,000 years now.
Yes, we celebrate Incarnation. But what do we mean by that? What do we think of when we hear that word?
I’d wager that most of us think of the Incarnation in this way: “God walked on this earth, physically, for 33 years or so. Then he died, he rose again, and—finally—he returned to heaven. When he left, he sent the Holy Spirit to be present among us—but the actual physical body of Jesus was gone forever.”
Isn’t that how we usually think of it? Jesus was here on earth healing, teaching, and revealing God for about 30 years. But he is not actually here anymore—he’s in heaven. The Incarnation—that time when God was physically present and walked among us … Well, that time is over. And while the Holy Spirit is real … the Spirit is not the actual, physical presence of God—at least, not in the way that Jesus was.
Some days, I find myself wishing that Jesus was still here—right now—in the flesh. Do you ever wish for that? Do you ever wish that he was still here, so that we could touch him and feel him and actually hear his voice? So that we could see the compassion in his eyes?
There’s a story I heard once about a child who woke up in the middle of the night after a terrifying dream. She was convinced that there were all kinds of monsters and goblins lurking under her bed and in the corners of her room—so, frightened and crying, she ran to her parents’ bedroom. After her mother had calmed her down, she took the child back to her own room and said, “You don’t need to be afraid, you’re not alone. God is right here with you in your room.”
And the little girl said, “I know that God is here, but I need someone in my room that has some skin on!”
We all need a God who has some skin on, don’t we? We need God to be present here and now, in the flesh, in 2022 in the midst of this frightening world. We need someone we can hear and touch and smell and see.
You know, after talking to many people over the years, I’m convinced that most of us don’t need to find God in some obscure setting—like a remote mountain monastery, or the solitude of the desert. No. Most of us need to find God in the kitchen, and in the backyard, and in the parking lot, and on the telephone.
We need God to hold us when we are discouraged.
We need God to give us a gentle kick in the butt when we ignore somebody in need.
We need a God who has some skin on.
Ronald Rolheiser is a Roman Catholic theologian from Cactus Lake, Saskatchewan. In his book, The Holy Longing,1 Rolheiser offers some helpful observations for those of us who long for a God “with skin on.” He suggests that the reason we find it difficult to experience God as real and alive and physically present has to do with a faulty understanding of what Incarnation means.
Rolheiser points out that most of us have a rather short-sighted perspective in this regard. It’s as if we think the Incarnation was a 33-year experiment—a one-shot excursion by God into human history. And now, it’s over.
You know, if that were really true, I think I’d suggest that we just close up shop, give everyone a pat on the back, and then head on out to make the best of it on our own.
However, the truth is different. The Incarnation did not come to an abrupt end when Jesus ascended into heaven.
No. The Incarnation is still going on. It’s just as physically real today as it was when Jesus of Nazareth walked the dusty roads of Palestine.
Why do I say that? Consider once again today’s passage from the Book of Acts. When the Holy Spirit came to fill up those believers on the Church’s first Pentecost—after Jesus had gone back to heaven—God once again took on flesh. Once again, God put on some skin. Not in the way it happened when Jesus was born, of course, but in another way.
On the Church’s first Pentecost—through the power of the Holy Spirit—God was again clothed in human flesh. And ever since then—down through more than 20 centuries—God has been sending the Holy Spirit to the Church. Still today, God sends the Holy Spirit to us, and for the same reason. By giving us the Holy Spirit, God awakens gifts in each one of us—gifts that the world still needs; gifts that God needs to continue giving, here and now, in this weary old world.
It seems strange to us, but—on that day we think of as the first Pentecost—God came to depend on us, just as we depend on him. I know how odd that sounds, but that is the message of the New Testament: God depends on us to do his work in the world, to be the living Body of Christ in the world.
Through the power of the Spirit that lives in us, God lives in us. God is incarnate in us!
Does that sound weird? Does it sound like heresy? It’s not. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “Now you are the body of Christ, and individually members of it” (1 Cor. 12:27).
The season of Pentecost is the longest season of the Church Year, lasting until the season of Advent arrives, and we once again find ourselves waiting, and anticipating.
In a way, much of the Pentecost season is “down time” in the Church. Soon, summer will be upon us, and many of us will depart on vacation. Worship attendance will drop, and perhaps most of us won’t really think much about church until September. So the Pentecost season sounds kind of … well … like a non-event, doesn’t it?
And that’s a shame, really. Because it seems to me that in many ways, the long, seemingly boring season of Pentecost is perhaps the most important season of the church year. Why? Because this is the season wherein God once again fills us up with the Holy Spirit. This is the season wherein we can be renewed in the Body of Christ. This is the season wherein God wants to make sure that people see him with some skin on.
During Pentecost, we are called to use the gifts that God has given us. God has blessed us with gifts so that we can bless others. God has given us time and talent and money to share with those who need it. God has given us ears for listening and compassionate hearts for understanding.
The gifts God has given us are meant to be used for others, used in such a way that those who need God—a real, physical God with skin on—will be able to find that God. That’s what Jesus did 2,000 years ago—but now God is depending on us to do it.
St. Teresa of Avila captured it so well when she wrote:
Christ has no body now but yours,
no hands but yours,
no feet but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which
Christ’s compassion must look out on the world.
Yours are the feet with which
He is to go about doing good.
Yours are the hands with which
He is to bless us now.2
At Christmas, we celebrate the birth of Jesus—God made human. At Pentecost, we celebrate the birth of the Church—where God takes on skin as the Body of Christ. It seems to me that these past six months we’ve traveled with our Saviour, have been something like a dress rehearsal. And now we’re at opening night.
Ready or not, the curtain has been lifted—and now it’s up to us to make sure that the show goes on.
What are we going to do about that, during this season of Pentecost? What are we going to do, to make sure that the Incarnation continues to live on in us, as the Body of Christ? What are we going to do, to make sure that those who desperately need God’s unconditional love will be able to find it?
In us, may they find a God with skin on—a God who will hold them when they need to be held, who will fix a leaky faucet for a cup of coffee, who will comfort and reassure them when they are afraid.
In us, may they find a God with skin on—a God who will laugh with them when they are delighted, who will run an errand for them when they are homebound, who will pick up the phone to let them know that they are being thought of, who will mourn with them when they grieve.
In us, may they find a God with skin on—a God who will house them when they are homeless, feed them when they are hungry, and visit them when they are in prison; a God who will sit silently with them when they simply need a quiet companion.
So, of each one of you, I ask this question: what are your gifts from the Spirit? You have them, you know. Young or old, long-time church member or newcomer, if you’re part of Christ’s Body, you have gifts from the Spirit. And—especially during this season of Pentecost—you’re called to use them. We all are.
And remember—God is depending on us.
1Rolheiser, Ronald. The Holy Longing: The Search For A Christian Spirituality. New York: Doubleday, 1999.
2Attributed to St. Teresa of Avila and quoted in The Holy Longing, p. 73.