Not that long ago I was just beginning to attend church. I had come to be a Christian through a Wesley Foundation, a United Methodist campus ministry. So while I was familiar with praise music, loved communion, and was growing in faith through Bible study and relationships with other college students as well as the campus pastor, I had no idea about the church year.
I went to worship one Sunday to hear our pastor encourage us to wear red the next week to help celebrate the church’s birthday. I assumed it might be something special in this particular church, but I was in! I had nothing red, so that week I went shopping, found something that was reasonably priced, and looked forward to wearing it on Sunday.
That next Sunday was Pentecost. And while there were a lot of folks wearing red in the room, it wasn’t like any birthday party I was expecting. Instead, we heard the scripture story that is often pointed to as the origin of the church – Acts 2:1-17. The disciples, who had just witnessed Jesus ascend into heaven, were told before he went that they needed to wait.
They’re all gathered in one place, when suddenly there is an overwhelming sound like a violent wind and tongues that looked like fire, came to rest on each of them. They were filled with the Holy Spirit and could speak in other languages so that they could witness to the good news of Jesus Christ to all people.
Some people were amazed and in awe. Others assumed the worst – that these no-good followers of that radical rabbi were drunk. But Peter, always willing to step out ahead and called to be the rock of the new church, stood up to offer his witness to all. This was not drunkenness! This was the fulfillment of prophecy – “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams” (Acts 2:17).
One thing I learned about the church year is that it repeats, starting over in Advent. This helps us follow the life of Christ through birth, ministry, death, and resurrection, imprinting upon us the pattern of the “pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).
Come Sunday, it will again be time to celebrate the birth-day of the church, the pouring out of God’s Spirit upon God’s people, as we hear the Pentecost story. At the Krum Church, we’ll conclude these Great Fifty Days of Easter by affirming that Easter People are Spirit-Filled.
That pastor in the church I attended as a new disciple of Jesus asked us to wear red to remind us of the fiery nature of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit moves as it will, bringing forth new life, advocating for us and all creation, and praying for us when our words fail.
In the ancient near east, the writer of Acts tried to capture the nature of the Spirit with powerful metaphors like “strong wind, gale force” or a “wildfire” as Eugene Peterson renders it in his modern translation, The Message. I wonder if we tried to describe the Holy Spirit in our post-modern words what we would say.
Is the Holy Spirit like electricity, powering and illuminating our lives? Such a constant that we have no idea how we would do life without it? Or is the Holy Spirit more like the internet, connecting and informing us across all boundaries that were formerly considered insurmountable?
Of course, no language is ever adequate to capture the essence of God, but we are called to use words in our witness, as Peter does. When we use these metaphors, when we try to understand the nature of God with our finite minds, it’s like trying to capture the spirit of the sea in a Dixie cup. It’s true, as far as it goes, but it’s not the whole truth. But putting these glimpses together help us know God better.
God wants us to know him because that’s part of being in a relationship. Paul writes, “Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). So don’t underestimate the longing God has for you and your capacity to grow in love and understanding. I pray God pours out the Spirit upon us all so that we can be good news to the world!