John 14: 15-16, 23b-26
The fifty days of Easter do not end with a whimper. Easter does not appear to go out quietly, according to the description in Acts. Easter comes to its fulfillment with “noise like a strong driving wind.” The noise fills the whole house where the disciples are gathered. The sound causes others to gather to find out what is going on. It was a gathering from every nation. The diversity of those gathered seems to correspond to the uniqueness of the noise itself.
There is drama here of the first order. But is it the noise alone that is the drama? Is it not what happens to the noise that is the real drama? The noise fills the house, it enters within the dwelling. The noise seeks to go inside to enter where the community is gathered. But then we hear that along with sound there is fire in the shape of tongues. And what happens to the fire? The fire enters into each person. And suddenly those gathered are filled with the Holy Spirit. The noise like wind and the fire like tongues fill the dwelling and the people. The drama is that the wind and fire symbolize God’s power to dwell within. The wind and fire are God’s dramatic entrance into the heart of the human community and person. Put simply, the Holy Spirit is God within. Now God fills all space both without and within. The key word in our story is the verb fills. The wind fills; the Holy Spirit fills.
On Pentecost the Spirit comes as God dwelling within the human heart. The noise of God’s breath as it were fills each disciple. And something changes. The noise of the wind becomes the speech of the disciples. Now their speech is such that they can speak and be understood in every human tongue. The Spirit breath of God is filling human language. He is purifying it, as it were. He transforms it so that instead of being a barrier between human beings, it becomes the bearer of a word about himself. God lives in people in such a way that they are newly connected to each other. Human language is a bond between us but it often seen and experienced as more off-putting than bringing us together. But something new is happening here. Human language is now the place where God’s Spirit lives. The Spirit lives within us as close and as much a part of us as is our ability to speak and communicate with each other.
The loud noise that the disciples and the crowds hear may be God’s last shout, last roar. And when it settles down, it is not something deafening. It is not a noise that we want to shut out with our ears. When the noise of God settles down, it comes out in human speech that all can hear and understand. The single word of Jesus echoing over the hills of Galilee or in the courtyards of the temple is now found in our voices, our words. God’s word comes to live in us. We have been transformed into his messengers. God lives, daringly, in our human languages, in our everyday speech.
If we think that God’s dwelling within us and transforming our speech is a marvel, then listen to what Paul is saying about the Spirit. Paul reminds us that the Spirit lives in our very bodies. So powerful is this Spirit that it can make a dead body live. If the Spirit that transformed the body of Jesus is living in us, then our bodies too will be transformed. Spirit is on the side of life. Spirit is life; it is the breath that God sends to raise up dead bodies. The Spirit living within us is our connection to life that does not end.
In fact, if God’s Spirit fills us and is within our bodies, then death is somehow changed. The Pentecost Spirit alters the very direction and goal even of our bodies. The Pentecost Spirit is meant to transform the way we view our own death. The Pentecost Spirit has to bring a new way of approaching any threat of death that looms in our lives. All moments and types of death can become moments when God’s breath can enter and pull us to a new form of existence. If God’s Spirit can live in our human words and transform them, then God’s spirit can live in bodies that will die and transform them into something that lives forever. We can never again look upon our bodies with an attitude of carelessness or hopelessness. Our human bodies are filled with God’s Spirit. ….Pentecost makes a loud noise in our ears so as to disturb our thinking. That thinking that needs disturbing is that our language is to be transformed to bear always a word, a sound of good news. Our bodies, too, are not what they look like on the surface. Our bodies are filled with God’s Spirit now. Where that Spirit is, that is where we truly are.
Pentecost is the feast of God dwelling within us. His spirit fills our very minds, hearts and bodies. Pentecost is also the feast of God’s dwelling in the space between us: between our human bodies, between stellar bodies, between ourselves and Christ, ourselves and the Father in heaven; it is all filled with the Spirit. The Spirit is in our relationships to each other, to Christ, to the Father. If we think the space between us is empty or that it is antagonistic, then Pentecost says it is now filled with a gift. It is filled with the gift of a bond that binds gently and yet securely. The Spirit is what holds us together. It is found in our fidelity to our commitments. It is found in our obedience to each other. It is found in the love that passes between us, in the love and fidelity we have to Christ and his word. Our responsible actions and words, our care for each other and concern: that is the Spirit of Pentecost living in us.
Today’s noise is meant to wake us up to what is within, to the power of human language. Today we go from noise, even noisy words, to speech and word that pass on wisdom, offer comfort, speak of hope, proclaim faith and above all words that find their fulfillment in communicating love. It is love that is the heart beat of Jesus’ words; it is love that caused creation and it is love dwelling in us and around us that sustains the world and transforms it until it all is a place where God is dwelling in his Spirit. Yes, the Spirit of the Lord fills the whole world, all that it is within it!
~Fr. Joel Macul, OSB