In a recent conversation with the organist and choirmaster of my parish, Jacob, we both discovered that we might have been duped all these years. As both of us had seen it play out liturgically over years, Pentecost felt like a very violent event. This is a faithful assessment. Acts 2:2 describes the “sound like the rush of a violent wind” that filled the whole room. As we both reflected on this scene in Acts, we both reacted against the violence. Our response came from a place of having witnessed far too much violence in our world.
Where we connected was in one of the Gospel readings appointed for this day. In John 20 we have the scene where Jesus appears to the disciples after the resurrection. He bypasses a locked door, steps into the midst of their fear and skepticism, speaks “peace,” and then breathes on them and says “receive the Holy Spirit.”
The tenderness of that scene spoke to us. “We’ve been missing this all this time,” Jacob said. “How counter-cultural would it be for the church to emphasize this gentleness at this moment in our lives?”
Maybe it is because I am writing this on the heels of Mothers’ Day, but when I think of gentleness, I think of my own mother. She was and continues to be peace for me when life feels all out of sorts. I connected the experience of my own mother with Jean II Restout’s “Pentecost.” To be certain it shows the full, violent force of Pentecost. Any Episcopalians who are curious about what it means to be “slain in the Spirit” might see this as a “how-to” guide.Curiously, at the center of this scene is not the Holy Spirit, but Blessed Mary. She is standing solidly on the altar as the disciples around her faint in the presence of God. She is an image of stability, peace, and strength in the midst of what looks and feels very violent. I think this painting reveals Mary’s special role in the salvation plan of God – as Mother of Christ.
Pentecost is about the creation of a new community – the mystical body of Christ. It makes sense then that the woman who gave birth to the actual body of Christ should be centered. She carried, birthed, nurtured, supported, and cared for the actual body of Christ. Mothering a Jewish boy in 1st century Palestine must have been difficult.
We don’t have a lot of literary material describing their exchange, but I project my own experience onto that of Mary and her son Jesus. Mothering well in the midst of oppression takes gentle-strength. It involves creating affirming spaces for creative peace. It takes confidence and a whole lot of prayer.
The peace that Jesus offers his disciples is peace that affirms and creates in the midst of destruction and negation. It is the “peace of God which passes all understanding.” I can’t help but think that he learned it firsthand from his mother.
A Prayer for Today
Almighty God, on this day you opened the way of eternal life to every race and nation by the promised gift of your Holy Spirit: Shed abroad this gift throughout the world by the preaching of the Gospel, that it may reach to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Has your experience of the Holy Spirit been gentle as breath? Powerful as wind? Both?