Last Sunday the western church celebrated Pentecost, this weekend it’s our turn in Cyprus. So here I am, caught between two Pentecosts, and I have this picture in my head.
I’ve been thinking about the disciples in the upper room. Meeting together perhaps to celebrate Shavout – the festival of the first fruits, but certainly to pray, to stare at their empty hands, to hope. Waiting, but not sure about what they were waiting for. Hoping, but not sure what to hope.
And then suddenly…
The Holy Spirit showed up in the room.
And he sounded like a violent rushing wind and looked like flames of fire.
I suspect the Holy Spirit can choose to look and sound pretty much how he likes, but on this occasion he came to them in a way they could not mistake. The same fire that had burned with the presence of God in the bush where Moses heard God speak now came to rest on each of them. Wonderful but terrifying.
Almost every time I read a story in the Bible, something different about it grabs my attention. What stirs me most when I read this one today is the very first gift that the Holy Spirit chose to give to those trembling disciples. As the Spirit was poured out he gave them a gift of languages, the ability to make the good news available to everyone.
I love that. The very first gift of the Spirit was one that shouted for all to hear that everyone could be included, that the presence of God was not just for the chosen few, but from now onwards it was for everyone who called on the name of the Lord regardless of where they came from.
Of course they were misunderstood. And some who didn’t quite understand what was happening yelled out their criticism (as occasionally happens today when the Holy Spirit shows up in a way that’s not quite what we expected!) so Peter stood up to explain what was happening, quoting this beautiful verse from Joel:
‘In the last days I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions
and your old men will dream dreams.’
Acts 2:17 NRSV
Sometimes we think about the presence of the Spirit or the gifts of the Spirit (or of some of them), as being just for ‘the special’, just for ‘the holy’ or just for ‘someone-else’.
But God is pretty clear about it here. When he pours out his Spirit, it is on all flesh. No-one who calls Jesus ‘Lord’ is excluded from that statement: we can’t exclude others from it and we can’t exclude ourselves from it.
God didn’t say, “I will pour out my spirit on those who shout loud enough, or pray hard enough, sing sweet enough or close their eyes long enough”.
He said “all flesh”
even when you’re tired
even when you’re lonely
even when you’re grieving
That’s the beauty of Pentecost – the good news in my language, the spirit poured out into my flesh. The precious, beautiful Holy Spirit, suddenly available and present to us all. Poured out not in a trickle or a dribble, but in abundance – a gush of the pure, sweet, inexhaustible presence of God poured out over anyone who wants to come and stand underneath it.
Any time you like.
For your journal
You might like to join me in praising God for the beauty of Pentecost, for his generosity in pouring out one Spirit on all of us that follow his son. You might like to think about what it might mean that this happened at the festival of the first fruits, of celebrating the beginning of a harvest. You might like to make a choice to stand underneath that waterfall of his presence again, or maybe even for the very first time.