May 24, 2015
John W. Sewell
Today we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit fifty days after the Resurrection. The reading from the Acts of the Apostles describes the day of Pentecost and the indwelling of God’s Spirit in a new way, more continuous and more manifest than had been experienced before. The ancient Aramaic translation of the Pentecost story puts it this way, “And as the days of Pentecost were fulfilled, they gathered together as one. And there was from the stillness of heaven a sound like the stirring of Spirit, and the whole house was filled with it, where they were staying.” The spirit then fell upon them as tongues of fire. After Pentecost the word, God, as they had defined it, was no longer adequate to describe what the Christians were experiencing.
As John Polkinghorne puts it, [The Faith of a Physicist, pg. 146] “The early Church felt that it experienced divine power present within it with a peculiar intensity and personality.”
HOLY SPIRIT – BREATH, SPIRIT OR WIND
They looked into the Hebrew Scriptures for ways to explain what had happened. The language of spirit (ruah) was used in the Old Testament in relation to creation (Genesis 1: 2f.) The Spirit brooded over the waters of chaos in creation.
In both Greek and Hebrew the word for spirit means also ‘breath’ or ‘wind.’ This is the sense of today’s Gospel reading. On Easter afternoon, the disciples were huddled behind closed doors for fear of the authorities. Jesus came and stood among them and showed his wounds. And as the disciples rejoiced he said twice “Peace be with you!” Then he said, “As the Father has sent Me, so I also send you.” Then, when He had said this, He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” This verse can be translated, “Receive the holy breath.” He then says, “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven him, but if you do not forgive someone, his sins are retained.”
Jesus breathed on them giving the Holy Spirit to the disciples. They had been behind closed doors for fear of the Jews. He tells them that they may forgive sins and retain them. I have been wondering? Is Jesus telling the church to be the moral police as has so often been the interpretation of this passage? Or is he saying in another way what he said in so many other places, namely, that we are to forgive everyone. If we retain sins is it because we can choose whether or not to forgive OR because we are unwilling or unable to forgive? Did our Lord not tell Peter to forgive infinitely? If we do not forgive is it because we unable to inhale the holy breath?
I am learning that deep breathing and fear are not compatible. Years ago and far far away I studied Yoga. The word comes from the Sanskrit and means union, from the words “to join”. Yoga is a technique for promoting “mindfulness.” — to become still and in that stillness to awaken and become conscious. To breathe and stretch promotes consciousness of one’s body one is present in one’s body. The yoga tradition says that each human being has a certain number of breaths to breathe in their lifetime. To breathe rapidly and shallowly is to wasting our very life. Although I doubt there are a set number of breaths per life, shallow rapid breathing does not promote health. Is the same true in the life of faith?
It is difficult to panic when breathing from the diaphragm. When people panic they breathe faster and more often, which in turn promotes more fear and less thinking. When we are afraid we have more trouble forgiving than when we are centered. The gospel tells us that perfect or mature love casts out fear. When we are centered we can choose to love rather than become our fear. After Jesus breathed on the apostles they were no longer afraid. They went into the streets proclaiming the good news of God in Christ to the very people from whom they had earlier hidden.
Like deep breathing, the presence of the Holy Spirit is incompatible with paralyzing fear. So it stands to reason to me that where we are afraid is the very place the Spirit is likely to be manifested. To be alive is to risk. Yet we are so afraid of risking. We run the numbers, buy insurance, take polls as if by some incantation or marshaling of force we shall at last be secure. But it is an illusion.
As Helen Keller, a woman who knew a good bit about challenge once wrote, “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”
The promise of our Lord is the gift of the Holy Spirit, the heavenly dove, the bird of open spaces, of the unpredictable, the risky and uncontrollable. Our part is to become quiet and be still, facing our fear that the love of God will be manifest in us. Fear prevents the breathing THAT PRODUCES SONG.
THE HOLY SPIRIT CREATIVE, SPONTANEOUS & PLAYFUL.
For example check out the Psalm for today –
26 Yonder is the great and wide sea
With its living things too many
to number, creatures both
small and great.
27 There move the ships, and there
is that Leviathan, which you
have made for the sport of it.
God made the whale just for fun. As an old friend of mine, Fr. Craig Bustrin, used to say, “The Whale is God’s Rubber Ducky.”
THE HOLY SPIRIT AS ADVOCATUS
Advocatus: is a Lawyer, defender, in John 15, a defense attorney. Interestingly, the word, Satan is not a proper name, but a title, literally meaning, “The other side” or prosecuting attorney. The “Court of Heaven” is clearly displayed in the opening chapter of Job. Here the title, Satan, is used; in others accuser.
JOB 1:6-12 One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them. 7 The LORD said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the LORD, “From going to and fro
on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.”
The scene, as the curtain rises is a court room. Each one, you and I, are seated in the chair reserved for the defendant. We are in a world of trouble, facing the death penalty; if the truth be told, we, every last one of us is guilty It’s an open and shut case without wiggle room. Not only are we addicted to sin, we are pushing it as well.
Now, the good news, beloved. Jesus served as our advocate so long as he lived in his incarnation (Christmas t0 Ascension). He is gone. Panic not. Jesus promised another Advocatus, one like him. Who is this defense attorney? It’s a senior partner in the old-line law firm in Heaven! Actually, it’s better than that. One of the masthead names of the firm, Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Attorneys & Counselors, founded before the foundation of the world is on his way.
The Holy Spirit is opening an office here just so we have immediate and continual defense! He is on retainer paid for by the cross and passion of the second person of the Trinity. Do you see what amazing news this is? What have we done to deserve this? Nothing, absolutely nothing. This, sisters and brothers for God is pro bono work! We call it GRACE!. .
In the Name of God, Father, Son & Holy Spirit!