Pentecost Sunday

May 19, 2002
See Also: 
Reading 2: 
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
Reading 3: 
1 Corinthians 12:3b-13 or Acts 2:1-21
Reading 4: 
John 20:19-23
By Jeanyne B. Slettom

The incarnation narrative solves the problem of how a transcendent God, beyond space and time, can enter the world of human understanding. But after the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, the problem shifts. God entered the world in the person of Jesus. When the material presence of Jesus is no more, how does God stay in the world? How do Jesus' followers explain the abiding presence of Jesus that they continue to feel? The answer appears in the tongues of fire that descend upon the disciples on the day of Pentecost. This is the Holy Spirit poured out of God into the people; this is the Advocate promised by Jesus, the manifestation of the mutual abiding Jesus talked about when he spoke of himself being in God and us in him and he in us.

In a way, the Holy Spirit can be seen as this principle of mutual indwelling brought into reality, into flesh-in this case, our flesh. It is an ideal that becomes actual in the world by being made actual in us. But the Spirit adds its own dimension to the idea of abiding, turning it away from any notion of stasis or passivity and making it a dynamic principle. As Paul makes clear in his letter to the Corinthians, the particular way in which the Spirit manifests itself is in services and activities, that is, in our doing. The Holy Spirit manifests itself in us as a power to act. And to what end should our actions strive? The answer is given in what surely must be one of process theology's top ten Bible verses: "To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good."

In this and these past few Sundays, the Christian narrative completes one of its trajectories; namely, the mystery of God's real presence in the world. How does the ineffable, incomprehensible Divine enter human consciousness in a knowable form? In the person of Jesus of Nazareth, who activates the pathway between human and divine. How does God continue to act in human consciousness once the earthenware vessel of Jesus is gone? Through the outpouring of God's Spirit, which follows the pathway that Jesus cleared-but with a purpose: for the common good.

This trajectory is obviously Trinitarian, and thus the Trinity is appropriately celebrated the following Sunday.