Weekly Lifelines 6/2/2022

On Sunday, we celebrate the feast of Pentecost and the Holy Spirit’s arrival. Curiously, like some other important events in the Bible, we have two different accounts of how the Spirit came to be with us.

The most well known story is in the second chapter of Acts. On the festival of Pentecost, fifty days after Passover (and Jesus’ Resurrection), the disciples are gathered together. Suddenly, the Holy Spirit descends, alighting upon each of them like individual flames of fire. They turn to the gathering crowd, with people from all over the world, and preach the good news. Instead of the din of many languages spoken on top of each other and people shouting over one another, everyone hears the good news of God, spoken in their own native language. Everyone is amazed and astonished.

The other account—certainly playing second fiddle to the other in the popular imagination—comes from John’s gospel. It occurs on the day of the Resurrection, Easter Sunday itself. The disciples, gather in fear behind closed doors, and witness Jesus suddenly standing among them. He says to them, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathes on them. “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven.” And that’s it; no waiting, no crowd, no drama. The Spirit moves right in.

It’s no wonder the story from Acts captures our imagination. But John’s gospel is something of a sleeper. In John, the Holy Spirit’s arrival is overshadowed by everything else happening that day: the Resurrection, the disciples’ joy (and ours), and the instructions about forgiveness. But it’s no less incredible an event than in Acts—actually it’s even wilder. The Spirit, now abiding with believers in perpetuity, gives us the power to “also do the words that [Jesus does] and, in fact, to do greater works than these.” (Jesus’ words; not mine.) Which works? All of them. Everything that Jesus has done: turning water into wine, healing a person on the brink of death, walking on water (i.e., overpowering the forces of chaos), filling thousands of people with God’s abundance, healing one born blind, even raising the dead. You think that was good? asks Jesus, Wait until you feel the power of the Holy Spirit!

It’s easy to get lost in the odd language of John’s gospel. The circular, repetitive language sometimes obscures the wild promise that Jesus offers us: The community of believers has been infused with nothing less than the very power of God. Preaching in other languages is pretty cool—don’t get me wrong—but John’s understanding of the Spirit’s power goes way beyond.In case you’re having trouble visualizing it, perhaps an image will help:
In all the gospels, Jesus does incredible things. But John’s gospel insists that we are filled with the same amazing, astonishing Spirit that filled and empowered Jesus. The Holy Spirit who came to the first disciples has remained with the community of believers ever since, imbuing us with nothing less than the very power of God.

That wild, powerful, holy Spirit is working to transform us, right here and now. I wonder what incredible things the Spirit will lead us to do. . .

Yours in Christ,

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