Down through the ages, our theologians have told us God is love. Saint Augustine taught that the Holy Spirit is – the bond – of love between the Father and the Son. There is such an immense love within the Father and the Son for each other that it spills over into our lives. A love as sweet as a breath or as passionate and powerful as a windstorm.
Scripture scholars tell us the Bible suggests that the apostles receive the Holy Spirit at two different events. In the Gospel of John, the risen Jesus appears to the apostles and breathes the Holy Spirit upon them and sends them on to continue his work. Breath symbolizes life. In the creation story in Genesis God breathed over the waters. He also breathed on to the clay of the ground and formed the first human being. The Hebrew word for the Holy Spirit is Ruach – which is feminine by the way – and it means breath or wind. When Jesus appeared to the disciples, he breathed on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
When Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit into them the moment seems peaceful, the Spirit is personal, as personal as your next breath. Saint Basil once said, "Through the Spirit, we become intimate with God." And this moment – between Jesus and his apostles – seems intimate and sweet. In that intimate moment with Jesus, the apostles breathed in the sweetness of Jesus’ love.
In the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, we hear how at Pentecost they experienced the power of the Spirit as a rushing wind an invisible mighty wind with noticeable miraculous effects. Perhaps these two very different accounts of the Holy Spirit coming give us a hint of how we can expect to experience the Holy Spirit in our lives. Sometimes as gentle as a breath and other times as powerful as the wind. The Holy Spirit is unpredictable.
Sometimes the Spirit comes to us like a breath, as sweet and gentle as a kiss. In the sacraments we experience the sweet kiss of the Spirit, the breath of God filling us. Hidden in the waters of our baptism is the invigorating gift of the Spirit – washing us and cleansing us. When we gather at the Lord's table, we experience the Spirit in Eucharist. At the moment of consecration, the priest prays:
“Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray by sending down your Spirit upon them like the dewfall so that they may become for us the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus.”
Like the dewfall, the Spirit gently and lovingly unites us into one Body transforming us into the Body of Christ as we receive the body of Christ. This is done as we share the sacrament as a community.
But we must also be ready for the wind and fire, a powerful driving force urging us to do things we never thought possible. On Pentecost, disciples gathered in that room experienced the love of God as a passionate driving force. The Spirit caught everyone by surprise rifling through the upper room like wind – or fire – compelling them to fly out of the exists speaking words they hadn't known five minutes before. The Holy Spirit of Pentecost is unpredictable who sometimes inspires us to do bold things. No one in the upper room in Jerusalem that day expected to speak a new language. Certainly, Peter did not expect to give his unrehearsed sermon, and I'm sure he was surprised when 3,000 people converted. The church was born in that moment of unearthly, unimagined strangeness when the fire and the wind inspired them to do bold things they never dreamed they could do.
Has this ever happened to you?
Maybe you can remember a time when you said just the right thing to someone, and you didn't know where your words came from. They came from the Spirit.
There may have been a time when you were inspired to do something bold you never dreamed you would do like move or change vocations. Think back was that the wind or fire of the Holy Spirit calling you to something new?
Perhaps in a time of prayer, or when reading the bible, or in nature, you were overwhelmed with awe or with a sense of peace and understanding. Like a fire burning in your heart. That came from the Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is given to each of us in sacrament and inspiration for a purpose. St. Paul tells us God deploys each of us – to do what He has for us to do – and gives us the gifts to do it. And what He has for us to do might surprise us like it did the apostles that first Pentecost. And it may be way beyond our competence like it was for them.
Saint Paul said to the Corinthians and us today:
“There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual, the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.”
Today is a good day to ask ourselves:
What gifts have I been given?
What service am I called to?
What assignment does God have for me?