This Pentecost Sunday is a strange day, even stranger than our present usual strange days. This is because our readings are full of gatherings, something denied to us at this time; the gathering of many people to hear the Word of God in their own tongue, the gathering each of us as the Body of Christ, and the gathering of the disciples in a room to witness the Risen Lord. The excitement of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit enthusing us into action, seems slightly ironic at this time when we are dispersed, unable to gather together and witness to this monumental event to the world.
Or can we?
Another irony that is not lost on me is that only two weeks ago I talked about God being found in the ‘gentle breeze’ and how we can witness to our faith through the strength of gentleness. And yet today, we hear of God’s presence in a ‘powerful wind’ and ‘tongues of fire’, a presence so significant that the noise attracted a great assembly. So clearly God can work through the powerful wind and the gentle breeze. It might be tempting to think that this could be considered contradictory in nature, but our second reading, I think, puts this into perspective.
The image of the ‘Body of Christ’ is so powerful because it’s easy to understand. We can all grasp the concept that a nose can smell, an ear can hear etc., so as a teaching aide, it’s an easy entry into collaboration, cooperation, and being open to recognise the skills of others…especially skills that we ourselves might not have. This is one of the supreme strengths of the Church. We have the humility to understand that others can do things better than we can. But on the other hand, we also recognise that we too have skills that others don’t. From there, it’s a short step to recognising that if we get together, free from envy and self-interest, then, as a body, there is nothing we can’t achieve.
Accepting this opens the door to discernment; what skill do I have, how is the Lord calling me to use that skill? Now I know that humility prevents some people from accepting that they have a skill…but you do! If you want to know what it is, then to find out is supremely simple…ask someone. It’s that easy. The answer might not be what you expect. It could perhaps confirm a deep-felt suspicion, or it might be something totally surprising. Whichever; you have a skill.
And how we use those skills is where the wind of the Spirit comes in. You might, for example, need the powerful wind if you are Called to be an apologist, an activist, even a missionary. This might help you, as an individual, to make the most of your skills in a turbulent and hostile world. But you might need the gentle breeze if your skill is prayer, accompanying the lonely, the dying, and the elderly. Of course, we need both at times, but the Body of Christ allows us to be both ministers and to accept ministry from others.
In short, the strongest of ministries and the gentlest of ministries are a tension that is vital to the mission of the Church. Jesus says in our Gospel, ‘Peace be with you’, and then shows the disciples the wounds in his hands and his side; signs, perhaps, of both the gentle breeze and the powerful wind working as one.
What I’m saying is that we are the Church. We are part of the Body of Christ, each using our own personal skills for each other, the glory of the Kingdom, and the glory of God’s name. And that, of course, spills over into the world. We are not a ‘clique’, a private members club or an exclusive gathering of ‘pious’ people. No, far from it, we are a fallen people, redeemed by God, and recognise that this gift is for everyone, regardless of race, gender, creed and anything else…we welcome all people, everywhere.
That is the Spirit of Pentecost in action. We might be separated by distance, unable to meet together, but we are united in the Spirit. We are one in the Body of Christ and it is this oneness, even in isolation, that binds us together.
So, whatever you’re doing in isolation, however you’re expressing your faith…keep doing it. Do it in the knowledge that others are doing what you can’t and that you are doing what others can’t. And do it also in the knowledge that what you’re doing, no matter how small or private, will still, somehow, spill over into the world. That is the nature of the Spirit working in us, the Spirit of Pentecost.
God bless you all.