Waiting for the Spirit, Learning to Breathe

in the upper roomThe Easter season is almost over. Ascension Thursday is just behind us (May 21), and on May 31 we will celebrate the great feast of Pentecost (50 days since Easter), a feast which more or less coincides with the Hebrew feast of Shavuot (Weeks), a harvest festival celebrated seven weeks after Passover. To anticipate next week’s readings, the scene is vividly depicted by Luke in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles:

"When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them…" (Acts 2.1-3)

So we have much to look forward as we quickly now move forward, mindful of Jesus' promise from last Sunday: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.” (John 14)

in the upper roomThe main point though for this Seventh Sunday of Easter (May 24) is a simpler one: the utter quiet of prayerful watching and waiting. The earliest community is together, just praying and waiting: no sermons, no good works, no miracles. Jesus is gone (there will be no more post-Resurrection appearances), and the future is uncertain, despite promises made. They gather in the upper room, perhaps where the Last Supper had taken place a few weeks before. The room must be rather crowded, since the twelve apostles are there, and — and thankfully, in Luke’s generous view of the earliest community — also right with them the women closest to Jesus, and his mother Mary, and his brothers too:

They returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer and were of one heart, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers. (1.12-14)

They pray, they persevere in prayer, day after day after day, presumably in keeping with their Jewish tradition. This in itself is a model of the earliest Church: men and women gathered, praying and keeping at praying, even in those uncertain times that seem bounded by the absence of Christ and delay of the Spirit.

Luke says that they are of “of one heart” (homo-thumadon: of one mind, one spirit), diverse women and men already deeply one. The Spirit present even before Pentecost, when like-minded and like-hearted women and men hold steady in a common cause, neither running away nor pretending the current moment is back to business as usual. One in heart, mind, spirit, they know that the one thing they can do is stay together with prayer and patience, and so they do.

This is for them a time of utter quiet, without a sense of what’s next. They have not been told, after all, that Pentecost/Shavuot will be the day with the Spirit comes upon them. In an open-ended way that teaches us how better to pray, they wait in God’s presence, no timeline, no deadline, no demand for something to happen. They simply wait upon God.

on fireUs too. The end of May 2020 marks about ten weeks since the great shutdown and stay-at-home began. Yes, the churches will open soon, and though with masks and distances and awkward pauses, we will praying together again soon. But right now we are still in a time of watching, praying, waiting for God and God's Spirit. In these days before Pentecost, let us think of ourselves as learning to breathe again (in-spire, ex-spire, in the Spirit), learning again to pray, to be fully alive once more.

And we might imagine that the tongues of fire have already been hovering over us all this time, wherever we happen to have been. Now, as the dark turns to light, the fire of the Spirit is slowly undoing the scattering and separation, drawing all our small flames back to the source, in community. The many scattered flames are becoming one fire again.

Resources for the week: Rather than wait for the special hymns (sequences) of Pentecost until the day itself, we can begin to listen now. Veni Sancte Spiritus (Come Holy Spirit) is linked directly to Pentecost. Here is one lovely setting of Veni Sancte Spiritus, and another and one by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and a lovely setting by John Michael Talbot. The wonderful Veni Creator Spiritus (Come, Creator, Spirit) is also most fitting, as in this simple chant. You can find on the web many other versions of each.

(The lovely painting in the middle of this post, which I found on the web, is by "Mykul Anjelo".)