Spirit of release, Spirit of turning, hidden you come to us in all the narrow places of fear to which we have confined ourselves. May the wind of Pentecost fall upon us now as sudden seeing, bracing air, and the power of release from all the places in which we cannot breathe. And then, standing, like Peter, in solidarity with one another, may we turn again into our life together, remembering in each darkness, each hard wind, that in love you fall upon us all.
Hearing the story of Pentecost again this year, I find I’m particularly drawn to the figure of Peter. Even though he doesn’t feature prominently – or actually, at all – in the first part of the story. And the first part is the part we are most likely to remember; it’s the part filled with colour, confusion, noise, and mildly scandalous accusations of drunkenness. Yet even when we don’t see him, Peter’s presence, and his past, haunt the story from beginning to end. Only a few weeks earlier, on the night of Jesus’ arrest, Peter had found himself standing uneasily in the shadows, outside the house where Jesus was being held. And there, provoked by people who were suspicious of his presence and his contacts, Peter had heard himself insist that he did not know Jesus. At all. That he was not one of his followers. And that he had no idea what they were talking about. It’s not surprising, then, that when we catch up with Peter shortly before Pentecost, he is still struggling with his guilt. Or more precisely, he is busy projecting his guilt on to the memory of Judas, an easy target under the circumstances. Peter was a man, as we would say today, with issues, and at this moment, he is not addressing them very successfully. But this is where it’s good to remember that these stories were written down at least 45 and maybe as much as 80 or 90 years after Jesus’ death. Several generations, in fact, and more than enough time for the church to develop its own issues for public display: doubts about its own proclamation, cultural tensions among its own members, and the continuing embarrassment of Jesus’ death and the apostle Paul’s condemnation by Roman authorities. So it’s in this context that Luke chooses how to tell the story of Pentecost. The most vivid moment in the story is surely reached when the gathered disciples are suddenly filled with the Spirit, and amidst all the confusion, begin to speak in inspired languages not their own. Yet perhaps the most important part of the story is what happens next. In the wake of the rising confusion, a sober Peter stands in the company of the other eleven and addresses the crowd with the painful yet liberating reality to which he himself is now finally beginning to be converted: that the fault line between betrayal and faithfulness runs through us all. And the founding reality of the church is that the Spirit falls on those who do not qualify. The bad news of course is that this conversion is generally a life-long project. We all have issues, and the church of the 21st century no less than the church of the 1st. The good news, though, is that we are immediately deprived of any grounds we might have held for judging others in the meantime. And it is the grace of being relieved of that burden which unites us. But it is also the source of our best witness. For once we grasp, as Peter is beginning to, that the last word about us will not be betrayal, but this surprising solidarity, we have turned the corner. Or rather, the Spirit has begun our conversion, and we are already joyfully exiting our places of confinement. Our lives are being re-opened in a way that has nothing to do with pandemic reference numbers, and everything to do with remembering who we are: people for whom release from captivity always means refusing to focus on what we think we’ve lost, and paying attention instead to what is being given. The future is not a calculation of what is left, but an anticipation of gifts yet to be given, and work yet to be done. As even now the young see visions, and the old dream dreams. And to God alone be the glory.
Attached for any children in the household or otherwise known to you! – a template for Pentecost spinners. We have made them in the past and let them spin down from the balcony on Pentecost Sunday, but they can just as easily be dropped down the stairs or out of a window! They don’t require any special materials, so I’ve included them for anyone who is in the mood.