Archived Sections, From the Editor

Come, Holy Spirit, Come

May 11 is a busy day in 2008. Of course, the primary national celebration is
Mother’s Day. (Editor’s Privilege: Let me right now say “Happy Mother’s Day”
to my mom Dorothy and my wife Susan Masters….You’ll be getting cards
And then, in our own Minnesota irony, Mother’s Day is shared with the
Minnesota Governor’s Fishing Opening. Now, if you don’t live in Minnesota,
and are surprised to see this listed as a holiday, then you just don’t
understand the Land of 10,000 Lakes. And in all likelihood, you don’t know
what lutefisk is either.
And this year, this state will be beginning its sesquicentennial celebration on
May 11. Okay, it’s not a holiday, unless you think of it as the 150th birthday
of Minnesota.
Anything else? Well, for Lutherans, and some other Christians, it is the
Festival of Pentecost. It’s the birthday of the Church almost two millennia ago
(beating out Minnesota by quite a few years). It’s the day we are most aware
of the third person of the Trinity ­— the Holy Spirit.
Christmas is certainly a big deal. And so is Easter. (Though both have been
co-opted by commercial concerns, meeting secular needs to celebrate light in
darkness and the emerging spring.) But Pentecost is a pretty quiet holiday.
So why isn’t it in most of our calendars? Could it be that we are all just a little
frightened by the Holy Spirit? She feels like the unpredictable face of God, the
one that causes the faithful to lose a little bit of their maturity, leaving those
observing to ponder whether we believers might just be “drunkards,” as the
observers to the original Pentecost suggested. This may offend both our piety
and our self-opinion.
I know that I care about what others think of me. And the Holy Spirit doesn’t
seem to as much.
Author Annie Dillard gets this. She says that we should all wear crash helmets
to worship because it should always be unpredictable enough that we might
need protection. That sounds like the Holy Spirit to me.
I have come to appreciate the Festival of Pentecost. First, the lectionary
readings during the Season of Pentecost, especially during the first month or
so, are some of the most interesting passages in the entire year. We hear the
issues confronting the early church as it was forming. We learn about their
attempts to live in common, sharing all they had in a shared treasury, with
literally no economic gap. They quite literally wanted to live out of one
checking account.
And we can understand why the apostles decided to name deacons, like
Stephen, to take care of the economic and racial concerns of this church (Acts
6). As the Greek-speaking widows were suffering in poverty, they appealed
to the community of the faithful for help and support. Clearly, in the days
when people were most closely able to remember Jesus, they considered it
essential to their life of faith to build a social order that was set up to care for
But, just as importantly, these followers didn’t think they should only do this
quietly. No, Pentecost is the celebration during which they took their faith
public. The followers of the poor carpenter named Jesus took to the streets to
proclaim their faith and to engage the world. They could be silent and afraid
no more.
Pentecost is a time to go public with our hopes for the world. In the early
1980s, many of the congregations in Moorhead, Minnesota, planned to march
on a Pentecost Sunday from their own sanctuary to the central park in the city
with a message of concern for God’s creation in the face of nuclear
proliferation. Hundreds of congregants made plans to move as rivulets
through the city of Moorhead with signs affirming their belief that they had
responsibility, even in issues of international affairs, to be the body of Christ
in the world.
In subsequent years, Christians usually under the planning of Sojourners
Community in Washington, D.C., gathered to raise similar concerns.
Empowered by the Holy Spirit, and passionate about the need to demonstrate
the impact of God’s world in God’s creation, congregants took the streets
with the intention of making a real difference in real people’s lives.
A group of local D.C. Christians were arrested for trying to stop illegal
evictions of low-income tenants in a neighborhood slated for gentrification.
There was power in the prayers as these protesters awaited their arrests.
There was singing in the police wagons. There were deep conversations in
the early hours of shared jail time.
But as the night in jail grew long, the adrenaline lessened, and the cool set in,
one lone voice altered the words of a song sung repeatedly during the
demonstration earlier that day: “We’re not very afraid. We’re not very afraid,”
he sang.
The Holy Spirit puts us in uncomfortable places sometimes. But we are called
there to make a difference in the world.
In 2001 we started to talk about the power of 9/11. We’ve probably all heard
ourselves say, “The world has changed and will never be the same.” I will live
in hope that we will say that about 5/11, the 2008 Festival of Pentecost.
With just a hint of fear, let us proclaim on that day, “Come, Holy Spirit.