I feel like an observer for so many holidays. Christmas: observe the Holy Family in the stable. Observe the children opening presents. Observe the Magi bringing their own gifts. Even Holy Week- despite the hands on activities offered via the Holy Thursday foot washings and the readings of the Passion and the venerating the Cross-I am still observing. These things are still observances, though powerfully moving ones.
That’s why, I think, Pentecost is one of my favorite holidays. Not only because it’s the birthday of Holy Mother Church (and I do love birthdays), but because it’s a holiday that reminds me I’m not merely an observer of my faith, that the Holy Spirit still actively moves among His Disciples, and that we are all standing in that Upper Room, hearing a mighty wind.
“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.”
Can you imagine how exhausted the disciples must have been in those days? Such a flurry of emotional and physical ordeals: watching Our Lord’s Passion, the Crucifixion and its fallout, the confusion of the Resurrection, the sublime joy of those forty days, the bittersweet heartbreak of the Ascension. It’s a testament to God’s grace that those people didn’t spend the nine days in the Upper Room falling out dead. I can barely cook three meals, run to the post office, and read a bedtime story all in one day without needing a coffee IV; just thinking about what the disciples had been through makes me need a nap.
And then comes the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, shaking the walls with a violent wind and filling the room with flames. Even imagining such a thing, a room filled with exhausted people and wind and fire is almost impossible. This should have been a recipe for disaster, as people panicked and fled and injured themselves and others. A tragic end to a fledgling religion.
But that’s not what happened. Instead of people filled with fear, they were filled with God. They were given insights that allowed them to speak in other languages, literally, as we see by the crowd’s wonder when understanding the disciples’ words in multiple foreign tongues. But the disciples were also symbolically given the gift of speaking in “other languages” as we see in Peter’s speech. Peter, who had begged Christ not to go to Jerusalem, who had denied his Lord three times, who had sometimes displayed a little too clearly how fitting “Rock” was for his new name, suddenly had a clarity of God’s plan that was utterly unique. Indeed, Peter’s speech in Acts 2:14-40 is remarkable in that revelations were being shared by the flash on insight given by the Holy Spirit. Instead of fear or worry or doubt or denial, Peter was speaking an “other language”.
And the thing is, the Holy Spirit still moves among us, and still gifts us with these flashes of insight that allow us to speak an other language. Those moments when suddenly we say just the right words of comfort to a friend, or offer council wiser than our ability, or find the courage to venture down a totally unfamiliar path, those moments when we act in ways larger and braver and kinder than ourselves, we are part of Pentecost.
We will never, in this life, actually hold the Divine Infant in our arms, nor will our lips kiss the bloodstained feet of the Crucified Lord. Our souls may, through prayer and meditation, however our bodies have to stay behind. But Pentecost offers us a chance to not simply observe, but actually participate, should we learn to be attentive to that wind and fire, and remain open the promptings of the Holy Spirit. God offers us a chance to speak a new language, if we keep our hearts and ears open to Him.