Sunday reflection by Very Reverend Stephen E. Salocks, Rector of Saint John's Seminary - May 23, 2021
On the Solemnity of Pentecost, the Church celebrates the gift of the Holy Spirit and joyfully prays, “Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth!” From the moment of creation, when "the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (Genesis 2:7, NRSV), through the various covenants and prophetic moments leading up to the Incarnation of our Lord, life, renewal, and divine care and guidance continued to take place through presence and action of God’s Holy Spirit. Our English words for “spirit,” “breath,” and “wind” all find their roots in the ancient biblical words for “Spirit,” and the frequent occurrence of those words in the Scriptures reminds us of the Holy Spirit’s presence in the lives of God’s people.
The Gospel tradition in general and the Gospels of John and Luke, in particular, testify to the many ways the Spirit was present and active in the life and ministry of Jesus. In Luke’s Gospel, in the account of the Annunciation, Mary was told that the “Holy Spirit would come upon her and the power of the Most High would overshadow her such that the child to be born would be holy and the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). In a form like a dove, the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus at his Baptism, and Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to face the temptations. Jesus begins his public ministry filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, and speaking to his fellow townspeople in Nazareth, fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy, saying, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor…” (Luke 4:18).
We recall all of this today as we hear Luke’s account in the Acts of the Apostles regarding the descent of the Holy Spirit. The driving wind and the tongues of fire that rested upon the Apostles are the signs of the Holy Spirit coming to rest on them and in them - and working through them. Now the work of Jesus can continue, and, through the Church, the good news can spread beyond the confines of Jerusalem to include both Jews and Gentiles, peoples from every nation under heaven, who can “hear them speaking in their own tongues about the might acts of God” (Acts 2:11).
The Gospel of John offers a very personal portrayal of the Holy Spirit/Advocate as someone who comes to us and remains with us, sustains us and consoles us, guides us, and reminds us of all that Jesus said and did. The Spirit is the gift of Jesus and the Father to us, and the Spirit is intimately connected to the death and resurrection of Jesus. In John, Jesus dies on the cross knowing and acknowledging that his work and mission from the Father was finished, and “bowing his head, gave up his spirit” (John 19:30). At his death, Jesus’ promise to send the Spirit is beginning to take place. When Jesus, risen from the dead, comes to his disciples on Easter night, he bestows his peace, commissions them, and, most noteworthily, breathes on them saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22). God created humankind by breathing the breath of life into us. The risen Christ created new life for a renewed humankind through his death, resurrection, and gift of the Holy Spirit. Integral and included in Jesus’ commission and the gift of the Holy Spirit to his disciples is the ongoing work of offering His peace and forgiveness to all who believe in his word.
A generation after the risen Jesus encountered his disciples and bestowed the Spirit of unity, peace, and forgiveness on them, St. Paul spoke to the Galatians about the ways the Holy Spirit would find expression in the lives of Christ’s disciples. By listing “the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control,” Paul teaches us how to be a church, a community, family, even a world, that lives under the influence of the Holy Spirit.
Today, we conclude Easter time by praying that God’s Holy Spirit will fill us. God calls us individually and together to live within his Kingdom, and we cannot do that without the Spirit/breath of God. Our celebration of Pentecost not only invites us to pray for the Lord to send down his Spirit but also challenges us to be open and ready for the Spirit’s presence in our lives.
The first petition of the Solemn Blessing for Pentecost is my prayer for you all: “May God, the Father of lights, who was pleased to enlighten the disciples’ minds by the outpouring of the Spirit, the Paraclete, grant you gladness by his blessing and make you always abound with gifts of the same Spirit.” (The Roman Missal, 2011, 530)