Reflection 053120 (Pentecost Sunday)
John 7:37-39/ Acts 2:1-21
Spirit of Life
In my favorite TV show, Doctor Who, there is one episode in which holding one’s breath is crucial to survival due to the android monsters who can sense a human presence only from one’s breathing. There is another episode in which, in order not to be killed, one should not blink. I know this doesn’t make sense to those who have not watched these episodes… Nevertheless, this week during the scripture readings and reflection on Pentecost, The Doctor Who episode on holding breath came to me vividly. I think it is because we all have an innate fear of dying. While the Doctor’s friend struggled to hold her breath while tears were streaming down her big eyes full of fear, I found myself holding my breath and trying not to breathe. It is an animal instinct to try to stay alive when one’s life is in danger. Life is precious. Life is everything…
The Bible has different analogies for the Holy Spirit. In the story of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descends to the disciples as tongues of fire. In some other books, the Holy Spirit is compared to a gentle dove. In John chapter 7, the Holy Spirit is like flowing water quenching the thirst of the thirsty. However, the most important analogy for God’s Spirit is breath. The Hebrew word ruah means both breath and spirit. The Hebrews understood God’s Spirit as the breath of God. Breath is life, as water is life. Holy Spirit gives life. “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink… Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.” (John 7:37b, 38b) Think of your experiences of being desperately thirsty without access to a drink and you felt like you would die of thirst. This may enable you to grasp what living without the Holy Spirit might feel like. The Holy Spirit gives life. In the story of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit that Jesus had promised came to the disciples who were gathered in prayer. On that day, the Holy Spirit came as fire, a great source of power. What is important in this account of the coming of the Holy Spirit is what this great power did to the disciples; they started speaking in foreign languages that they had never known before. Before you think, “That’s nice! I’ve always wanted to learn another language,” I should let you know that the purpose of this power is not for a foreign travel or showing off. Do you remember the story of the Tower of Babel? Humans wanted to build a tall tower to reach to the heavens, which caused God to divide the human languages so that they would not be united and increase their power. The coming of the Holy Spirit is an undoing of the Babel story. The first disciples receiving the power to speak foreign languages was the beginning of the universal Christian church. After this event, people from all over the world received the gospel of Jesus and we became the Church. We are the Holy Catholic (universal) Church.
Combined with John’s analogy of living water, we learn that the purpose of the Holy Spirit among us is for unity and life. The Holy Spirit calls us to unite in the Spirit and live a life-giving life as the followers of Jesus. Listen to Peter’s quote from the Book of Joel about the Holy Spirit in Acts chapter 2; when the Spirit of God comes to us, God’s people will receive God’s vision and the ability/courage to speak out God’s truth, which is what it means to prophesy. From the teachings of Jesus, we know that God’s truth is always compatible with the principle of justice, which is based on compassion. Therefore, on this day of Pentecost, the birthday of the Christian Church, let us ask ourselves, “What is God’s truth that we should speak out today?” Choose life. Promote life. Lead a life-giving life for our neighbors. Hearing this message in the midst of a pandemic where a lot of people act selfishly, there is a way we can promote life with the help of the Holy Spirit. We can and should protect ourselves and each other from the deadly virus. Doctors and nurses save lives by treating the patients; we can do so by doing everything we can to stop spreading the virus. Let us stay home, not visit people or go out to public places unnecessarily, always wear masks when inside a building with other people and maintain a safe distance, and wash hands often and thoroughly. I heard that when we talk to someone, both parties wearing a mask can prevent the transmission of the virus somewhere close to 100%. With the coming of the Holy Spirit to us, let us do everything in our power to save lives. It is our responsibility and calling as Christians to give life to others; in this pandemic, we can do so by following the medical advice rigorously and helping the vulnerable of the society get through this crisis.
Oh come, Holy Spirit!
Breathe in us the breath of God, the breath of life.
Let your breath heal the world through us, your children and agents!