Pentecost: Celebrating the End of the Easter Season
Friday, May. 22, 2020
The season of Easter, which we have been observing for the past 50 days, has its formal ending in the Solemnity of Pentecost, which celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles and signifies the foundation of the Church.
Pentecost is the most appropriate time for reflection on the person of the Holy Spirit who lives in us and among us, filling us with God’s life and inspiring our good deeds.
One way to understand the Holy Spirit is to look at the diverse images of the Spirit in the Scriptures and tradition. Accordingly, I would like to explore a few of these images.
First, in the Old Testament, the Spirit is spoken of as the breath of God. We read in the opening passages of the Bible that before creation began, “God’s Spirit hovered over the waters.” From the breath of God came all creation and life. When God created Adam, “he breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.”
The image of the Spirit as the breath of God is something we can easily relate to. All of us live by inhaling and exhaling. Our breath is invisible, yet it is the very current of life itself.
A second image of the Spirit is a strong wind. In the Acts of the Apostles, the Spirit comes upon the apostles like a mighty wind. The Spirit is no mere placid breath; he often becomes a storm driving us out of our lifeless attitudes. The Spirit is sometimes a disturbing, demanding presence, like a great storm driving us forward and clearing away the spiritual dust and smog that clouds our hearts and souls.
Third, the Spirit is like a blazing fire. This is one of the principal images of Pentecost. We are told that the Spirit came upon the apostles like tongues of fire. The Spirit is not a fire that destroys, but a fire that purifies, cleanses and energizes.
Fourth, the Spirit is like a pleasing fragrance. Although fragrance fills the air, it remains invisible. It delights, uplifts and gives joy. It is festive and celebrative. We associate fragrance with nature and its beauties, particularly with flowers. Flowers are beautiful not only because of the way they delight us visually but because of the invisible delight of their fragrance, which floats unseen in the air.
The great preachers of early Christianity spoke of the Spirit as the fragrance of God filling the Church and giving joy to all believers. The Spirit, like fragrance, is unseen, yet powerfully present and active among us.
Breath, strong wind, blazing fire, fragrance: All these are symbols of the Spirit who lives and moves in us, for the most part invisibly. There are many other symbols of the Spirit. Each in its own way tells of the wonderful variety and beauty of the Spirit’s invisible yet transforming life.
The Spirit dwells in the whole life of the Church. The Church and Christian life are an ongoing Pentecost, an ongoing event of the Spirit being poured out on the Church and upon all God’s faithful followers. This Spirit is the great gift that Christ has left to his Church. That is why the celebration of Pentecost is a fitting end to the great season of Easter.
When Christ was raised from the dead, the first sign of his risen life was the Spirit that he poured out upon the apostles. That is why the Spirit is always the Spirit of Easter, the Spirit of Christ, who broke the chains of death and lives with us as Lord and Savior.