It’s been my experience that most people have a pretty good idea of what Pentecost is all about; they know that it involves the Holy Spirit blasting through an upper room, spreading wind and fire all over the place, and causing anyone in the line of fire to start speaking in languages they’ve never heard before. Some will even think of Pentecostal churches, many of which having something to do with various manifestations of the Holy Spirit. And of course, like to many things, all of this is true, but none of it is complete.
The story of the Holy Spirit’s arrival with wind, fire, and all manner of drama does indeed appear in the Bible, but so does a very different story of the Holy Spirit’s arrival. The first, and better known, is in the Acts of the Apostles; the second comes from John’s Gospel. It takes place on the evening of the day of the Resurrection, when Jesus suddenly appears to the disciples locked away in an upper room. It’s all very quiet and intimate. Jesus breathes on them and says very simply, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” That’s it.
A lot of us Christians seem to want to argue that one version takes precedence over another, but are we really in a position to judge and rate the relative importance and believability of varying accounts of the same event? Is it not more possible that God’s Holy Spirit can do pretty much whatever It wants to do? Whenever and however It feels like doing it? Some life-changing events are loud and filled with drama; some are barely noticeable until long after they have passed. Surely we’re not going to say that God was more present at one than at the other, or worse, that the presence and power of God are confined to the ways we have experienced and thought about God.
God comes to us in wind, fire, and strange languages, to be sure. But God also comes to us in what the Hebrew Scriptures call the “still, small Voice.” Our invitation on this Feast of Pentecost, and indeed throughout the long, green season of Pentecost, is to recognize, celebrate, and proclaim how God has come to us, what God has done for us, and the hope we have that God’s Kingdom will spread throughout the earth. How, when, and under what circumstances God chooses to do that is, as we say, just a little bit above our pay grade. Our challenge is to experience and proclaim the God of our own understanding more than to confine that God to the same limited understanding.