Tuesday, June 7, 2011


Pentecost, the consummation of Eastertide, has come. The birth of the church, the explosion of tongues, the Spirit poured out: our joy and gratitude are due to all of these. But we do not celebrate the church's birthday in order to lift up institutional priorities. The miracle of tongues is a mystery of unity in diversity of which we can barely glimpse the meaning. And the Holy Spirit poured out on all flesh—what on earth does that mean? We understand the relationship of filiation; the relationship between the First and Second Person of the Holy Trinity parallels the relatedness of human families. But how can we know this Spirit that proceeds from the Father and the Son?

It seems counterintuitive, but our most intimate relationship with God is with this Third Person. The unbegotten Source of all, none can look on and live. And even though we treasure a personal relationship with Jesus, that relationship is mediated by the stories of the evangelists, the words of preachers, and the actions of those who show us Christ in their lives. And when we pray that this Spirit be sent upon bread and wine laid upon the table of the Lord, we pray that the one loaf and the cup of blessing be empowered by that same Spirit to be the body and blood of Christ, so that we may ourselves prove to be the body of Christ, blessing the cup in which our forgiveness is covenanted. And then going forth to be a blessing, sharing all our varieties of gifts in the same Spirit for the common good, forgiving others as we have been forgiven. That makes us sharers in the new creation, the work of the Holy Spirit in the broadest sense. The One who brooded over the tohu wa bohu of the first creation looks upon the chaos of our unforgiving lives of underemployed gifts and calls to holiness unanswered. This creator Spirit breathes life into the husks of our lives. And as suddenly as on that first Christian Pentecost, what had seemed burned out glows again with new ardor.

When the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us, this Paraclete brings along those Persons who pour out the Spirit, who say to us, receive the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the way to a personal relationship with the Persons of the Triune God. That is a relationship characterized by forgiveness, by understanding, by unity that does not quench diversity. We cannot keep that relationship going. Left to ourselves, we wind down into chaos in our lives, in the confusion of our tongues. But the Spirit keeps on being poured out, enlivening us as with tongues of fire. And so we keep this day of celebration as a day of prayer: Come, Holy Spirit. [Paul Bieber, "The Healing Word," Homily Service 41.3 (May 2008): 7-8.]

The Rev. Dr. Paul G. Bieber is the pastor of All Saints Lutheran Church in San Diego, California.

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