Images capture so much in so few words. The images of Pentecost Sunday abound: flames dance above the heads of the Apostles, or the widespread wings of a glowing dove hovers protectively above them. Those pictures resided unchallenged in my memory until I met a powerful presence in the form of a Poor Clare nun. She was actually incongrusously small. She was the first to suggest that while I had grown physically and intellectually, I failed to allow faith and religious belief to mature. With a conspiratorial wink and a soft chuckle, she invited me to new territory: faith as an educated adult. And at the time, her own prayer life was animated by her understanding of the third person of the Trinity: the Holy Spirit. Conversation with her was beguiling: she touched on the presence , movement and gifts of the Spirit. I often left with only fragments of understanding and wondering about the more. But there was her consistent sense that these were moments of simply sewing seeds for understanding. At the time, I could not even imagine next steps. But now, in the midst of a pandemic, Pentecost Sunday has suddenly found new meaning in our suffering world.
Pentecost Sunday. What was it really about? Beginning again in the wake of traumatic loss and tumultuous change. Wrestling a heady freedom from the intense grip of fear. Finding forgiveness in the recognition of self in others. Taking action with certainty and trust. Pentecost. Pandemic. It is time to take the leap of trust that Pentecost intimates, to allow the reality of what it means to literally go forth.
For the Apostles and disciples, their worlds and lives were slowly reopening, tenderly present to the idea that Jesus may not always be with them. but would never leave them. The Spirit provides that reality, that comfort. Tucked in the passages of Scripture far from the complexities of theological constructs, this is the promise that God’s presence permeates life and opens new life experiences. It is about ordinary people finding extraordinary comfort in the acknowledgment of God’s love. In the first phases of re-opening, in the tentative apprehension and the layers of anxiety, Pentecost offers encouragement, empowerment: love is greater than fear. Through the months of quarantines and chronicling the curve, there have been countless acts of coming together: birthday trains, road signs, food and PPE drives, concerts and performances, nightly cheering the frontline workers. Coming together allows each one of us to enter into the “all of us”, to be more together than we were apart. The disciples walked that same path.
That very step requires a great deal of trust: trust that each of us will do what is best for all of us. Navigating the early phases of opening has proven to be demanding: the spread of the virus highlighted the social and economic inequalities in society, fueled unemployment and economic losses and has allowed the re-emergence of racism and abuses of power. Pentecost, on the other hand, profers the opportunity to take a step back. Pentecost is a celebration of the idea that we are, as Teilhard de Chardin suggests, collaborators in creation. Alive with the Spirit, the disciples set out to celebrate and share the presence of God in the world. Theirs was a conscious effort with clear intent. This year, as educated adults and people of faith, we share in that call to become collaborators in creation. We share in the call to trust and to trustworthiness; we are linked over centuries to the disciples whose trusting response to the Spirit made things happen. This year, animated by the Spirit, we too can make things happen.