The story of Pentecost is familiar and it should be. We need to know the story. Pentecost changes everything. In a moment the entire order of humanity changes. Beloved creatures become not just creatures, but instead children of the loving Father. It is through the Spirit that we cry “Abba!” (Romans 8:15). In that moment God, the living God, comes to inhabit human creatures.
Marvel at that!
It is not the idea of God, or a sliver of God, but the real presence of the Living God. The Spirit is God, like the Father is God, like the Son is God. On Pentecost the Spirit invades creation in a new way. The Almighty comes to inhabit our human flesh! He does not do it secretly or gradually. He overwhelms.
Place yourself in the story. It might be helpful to open your Bible to Acts 2:1-4. It is a dramatic scene. The Apostles are gathered together in one place and suddenly from heaven there is a sound “like the rush of a mighty wind.” It does not start as a whisper, or as a gentle breeze. It is not gradual. Scripture says “Suddenly.” The Hebrew word for spirit, ruah, translates to wind or breath. In Pentecost the Ruah of God exploded into reality, filling the room with the sound of a hurricane. It is possible the Apostles, upon hearing the wind, immediately associated this with the Spirit, but—ready or not—there must have been a certain amount of terror.
As if the wind was not enough there then appears “tongues as of fire.” Note, Scripture does not relate to us “flames as those on a candle.” A tongue of fire cannot be found on a candle. The flame is too small. A tongue is how flames leap out of a bonfire and lick into the air. Watch a large fire and you will see that it has a certain wild, unruly danger to it. These tongues of fire do not safely appear in the midst of them, but instead are found “distributed and resting on each one of them.” The Spirit is not distant. His fire is not to warm us from the outside but comes directly to us.
Awe, or fear of the Lord, is one of the gifts we associate with the sacrament of Confirmation. It is not an abstract thing. It is not an intellectual concept. Awe is the natural state when a person encounters the living God. In that moment it was definitely anything but abstract to the Apostles. Even if they understood immediately that this was the presence of God I do not think that would take away the incredible awe. In this moment the Lord reveals that his Spirit is not a tame force. It is wild and unpredictable. It is also clear that this is not a little portion of the Spirit that is being poured out, but that instead it is an overwhelming release of the Spirit, “like the rush of a mighty wind . . . tongues as of fire.”
The story of Pentecost is there for a reason. God wants us to know that he is with us, and that his presence in our lives is not a small portion. It is his fullness, his awe-inspiring, world-shattering fullness.
Considering what we learn of the Spirit through the story of Pentecost, the challenge for the modern Christian is this: Do I believe this same, terrifying, powerful Spirit still resides in the Church? Do I believe this Spirit resides in me? Will I allow the Spirit lordship in my life so that I can encounter and experience awe? Will I invite God to be dangerous and uncontrollable in my life? (Tweet this.)
The Holy Spirit is God. He can not pretend to be anything else. Unless we will give the Lord permission to be who he is, Lord of our lives, Pentecost will be just a wonderful story. When we give him permission, it becomes our reality.