Tonight, after Vespers, the paschal candle will be snuffed out, bringing to a close the great Easter cycle of celebrations that began fifty days ago. It will be rekindled on special occasions, such as baptisms and burials, a reminder that the Spirit of God, while not visible has not departed.
The world has changed in these fifty days, not entirely for the better to be sure, but our faith tells us that no matter how we grieve the Spirit by our violence, rapacity, and carelessness, the tender, life-giving breath of God lives and plays among us in unseen ways, bringing life and hope to a world sorely in need of them. But that is now our mission as well.
The readings open with Luke’s account of the Coming of the Holy Spirit to the disciples, gathered with Mary, Jesus’ mother, in the upper room. It is perhaps not surprising that Luke, whose account of the good news begins with an angelic annunciation to Mary when she was hardly more than a child, reaches a climax in her presence – the last we hear of her by name in the gospel tradition. She, who birthed the Messiah, is now present as the ‘ecclesia,’ the church, is born. It is more than fitting.
The gospel is taken from the Gospel of John, when Jesus, risen from the dead, manifests himself to gathered disciples. He breathes on them and endows them with the Holy Spirit, first of all to forgive and also to resist sin and evil. Breath, we know well by now, is the English word for ‘pneuma’ in Greek and ‘ruach’ in Hebrew, the words used to signify God’s creating and healing presence in the world, and, importantly, in us. These are also words for ‘wind,’ something Luke uses to great effect in his account of events on the Jewish feast of Pentecost, the fiftieth day after Passover. Anyone who has ever had the wind knocked out of them will grasp the connection.
God’s breath, whether gentle or mighty, brings Creation to life, animating and reviving. These great words come to signify life itself, as we sang in today’s response:
O Lord, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom you have made them all;
These all look to you to give them their food in due season;
when you give to them, they gather it up;
when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.
When you send forth your spirit, they are created;
and you renew the face of the earth. [Ps 104:24-30]
The earth. ‘Adamah’ the Hebrew has here, which also roots the name of the first human. ‘Adamah’ signifies a specific area of earth, the land, the ground, we would say, not the whole earth [‘erets’ – Gen. 2:7]. St. Paul will later use the imagery in his account of the meaning of the Incarnation [1 Cor 15:47]. In this time of environmental crisis, it is theme worth reflecting and acting on!
If the world is no better than it was fifty days ago, if the awful slide toward social violence and the excoriation of Nature itself has not lessened, that is not because of the Spirit’s absence, but our failure to hear that gentle voice, to feel the warming presence in our hearts, to act boldly and lovingly in this world. As the Spirit God once moved over the primordial chaos, bringing order and life to the world, so that Spirit will enliven and heal Creation now through us if we heed that presence within us and still within the living planet itself. And so we can and must still pray,
Come, Holy Ghost, Creator, come
from thy bright heav’nly throne;
come, take possession of our souls,
and make them all thine own.
Thou who art called the Paraclete,
best gift of God above,
the living spring, the living fire,
sweet unction and true love.