The year 2010 is marked with personal historical significance. I witnessed my mother move from diagnosis to death in under a month. While I was blessed to spend the last three weeks of her life by her side in the hospital, that did not prepare me for the sheer heartbreak I felt when she died. I remember very little of the outdoor burial — the gathering of friends and family far and wide under an overcast canopy of clouds. It all seemed surreal to me. But that same year, I witnessed the birth of my best friend’s grandson. Nothing in my life had prepared me for the intensity of labor — the pain, the fragility, and the exuberance of watching a child come into the world. There I was, humbled by life and death in the same year. Two new gray hairs just above my left ear were proof that my nervous system had been devastated by the ultimate — life and death.
I imagine the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was similarly intense — violent winds, tongues of fire, the curious fluidity of speech and understanding. One Bible translation reports that those who witnessed the Spirit that day were amazed and astonished. I imagine them humbled and devastated by the ultimate. In this case, the ultimate was a manifestation of the Spirit of God. The crowd who had gathered sensed something just out of reach — the letting go of the familiar to embrace the unknown. They asked bewildered, “How is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?” (Acts 2:8, NRSV). The people gathered witnessed something Howard Thurman refers to as “the growing edge.” Thurman writes profoundly about the birthing and dying of things all around us. He writes, “Look well to the growing edge. All around us worlds are dying and new worlds are being born.”*
There are multiple ways to respond to that which we have no control over. The crowds who experienced Pentecost had mixed reactions. Some marveled; others questioned; still others sneered. How easy it is to dismiss the unfamiliar, to sneer at what we do not understand — even those of us who are religious, compelled by mystery, and attuned to the profound. How easy it is to forget the liberty at which the Spirit of God can enter all the spaces of our lives. At Pentecost, the arrival of the Spirit is so monumental that it marks a new era of time, a new epoch, an announcement of what to expect in these “last days.”
Luckily Peter is there to address the crowd, to lessen their overwhelm, and to guide them into time and timelessness, the promise of salvation for them and their children and “for all who are far away” (Acts 2:39). Peter’s message is just right for an imbalanced world that operates more on what it can measure, interrogate, evaluate, and project onto. The message Peter preaches is a caution to us that we belong to a world that is not always discernible, a world that cannot always be manipulated. The text he reads cautions us that hierarchical relationships will cease. The distinction in gifts of the Spirit will cease. Preaching, prophetic dreams, revelation — these gifts of the Spirit will fall upon all flesh. Even nature shall participate in the unexpected and the out-of-the-ordinary. In a word, Peter is describing the kin-dom of God come near. We cannot exactly anticipate what that will mean for each of us. But we shall be changed. In social terms, it might mean that our divisions shall cease. In political terms, it might mean that our corruptions shall fall away. In spiritual terms, it might mean that our devotion shall go unquenched. But whatever it means, we shall find ourselves caught up in the humbling power of the Holy, who will ultimately perfect our love and invite us to be changed.
*Thurman, Howard. Meditations of the Heart (Boston: Beacon Press, 1953), 134.
Questions for Reflection:
1. Read Acts 2. What do you think it would have been like to have been present on the Day of Pentecost? What about the experience would you have found frightening? What would you have found hopeful and encouraging?
2. Describe a significant change that has occurred in your life recently. What about it challenged you the most? What opportunity for growth did it offer?
3. What invitation for change do you sense God offering you today? How will you respond?