With these words, Jesus promises the disciples (and us) that his impending death will not be the end of his presence within them and the world. The Holy Spirit will descend and fill his followers with the truth and guide them in that truth. The gospel of John records Jesus’ appearance to the disciples who, on the day of his Resurrection, were locked away in a room “for fear of the Jews” (John 20:19). To still their fears, he declared “Peace with you” and “breathed on them and said ‘receive the Holy Spirit’.” Jesus gave them his breath, the breath of life, to sustain them as they were sent into the world to proclaim the Good News.
Fifty days after the first Easter, the apostles were still in Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost (also known as Shavuot or the Feast of Weeks), an ancient Jewish festival giving thanks to God and presenting grain offerings as God commanded his people in Leviticus. “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.” (Acts 2:1-4, NRSV) Jews from all over the known world were able to speak and understand one another although they came from a variety of places and spoke different languages. The Good News of Jesus could now spread like wildfire as those who were present could share their experience with the Holy Spirit with those in their home towns.
This gift of the Holy Spirit marks the beginning of Christ’s Church. As Christ’s followers, we will celebrate this most gracious gift from God on Pentecost Sunday, June 8. As is the custom of many Christian denominations, including Lutherans, the altar paraments and the pastor’s stoles will be red, symbolizing the fire, the hope, and the spirit of cooperation the Holy Spirit ignites within each of us to fulfill the Great Commission to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” remembering that through the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, the very breath of God, Jesus is with us, leading us, guiding us, loving us. This is something to celebrate!
No longer is God’s Spirit available to a select few. It is freely given to all who call upon the Name of Jesus as Savior. Unfortunately, Lutherans are often accused of being “second article” Christians, meaning that we focus on the cross and its gift of salvation. The presence of God’s Holy Spirit confronts us head on with an extraordinary challenge: to admit that the individual believer cannot on his or her own, come to believe and have faith in the risen Lord. It is only through the work of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel, the gifts of the Church and the Sacraments that faith is stirred up among believers. Without the Spirit, the Word preached and the Sacrament received are fruitless because faith would not be stirred and growth as believers would not occur.
Our Father in heaven, we thank you for the gift of your Holy Spirit which gathers believers into one body, sanctifies your children, stirs up our faith, strengthens us to do your will, and intercedes with you on our behalf when we don’t know how or what to pray. In the name of Jesus, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen
Celebrating the Spirit,