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Psalm 104:24-34, 35b

Six weeks ago, if you had asked me what the world would be like today, my guess would have been completely wrong. And so, it is with a little bit of trepidation that I admit to writing this post for Pentecost in early April. At this writing, we are six weeks out. I don’t know if my reflections now will be at all in line with what the world looks like when we preach this passage. I don’t know if it will be relevant. But Scripture itself is timeless… “alive and active” as described in Hebrews.[1] Context matters, but so does content.

Pentecost is my favorite day of the church year, but you can’t have Pentecost without Ascension, and Ascension is such a rough time for me to deal with. Still, let’s begin there. I recently taught an introduction to worship class, during which a student who did not profess to be a Christian was trying to wrap her mind around the Christian calendar and described ascension as when Jesus died again. Although I have all of the tools and all of the right words to gently refute this, I teared up. No. Jesus didn’t die again. But he left. Try to explain that well to someone who doesn’t believe in Jesus to begin with!

I hope that without being too reductive, we might draw a parallel, this year, between the days between Ascension and Pentecost and the days we, ourselves, have now spent in isolation. Following the words of Jesus, in Acts, roughly paraphrased, “Do not leave, but wait for the gift,” the disciples experienced a self-quarantine of sorts as they waited for the Holy Spirit to come upon them.[2] They didn’t spend quite as many days behind locked doors as we have spent, and they were gathered in a larger group, but without Jesus… without the Holy Spirit… they were very alone. It has always seemed to be a cruel twist to me, post-resurrection. It feels like abandonment, but that can’t be the whole picture. The most hopeful theological theories appeal to the necessity of Jesus’ return to the Father in order for the Holy Spirit to come. As people who rely deeply on the indwelling of the Holy Spirit as a work of grace in our lives, there is certainly precedent for accepting this as truth. Those ten days between are difficult. We lament loneliness and isolation. But then hope breaks through with wild abandon. Psalm 104 speaks to that.

The focus on creation as an ongoing event is really quite beautiful. It appeals to the mystery of God – the unknowable – but it also appeals to the grounded, even incarnational nature of that which has been created. There is an ebb and flow between God and all created things. We stand in awe at both the creation and the way in which God supplies every need. As we move toward verse 29, though, we feel the tension again: “When you hide your face, they are terrified; when you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust.” And then, without pause, in the very next verse: “When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground.” These words indicate that we are caught up in an endless cycle, for if the story of creation was merely linear, surely these phrases would be reversed. Death would have the final word: Instead, it is a new beginning.

And so, just as Jesus died and was raised… just as Jesus ascended and then sent the Holy Spirit to be with us always… may we recognize that suffering, lament, loneliness, and even death are only chapters in our narratives, as well, for Pentecost has come! Holy fire has fallen, and we, like the face of the ground, are made new again.

How else could we possibly respond, except with praise? “I will sing to the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. May my meditation be pleasing to him, as I rejoice in the Lord… Praise the Lord, my soul. Praise the Lord.”[3]

I’m always afraid of moving ahead too quickly. I’m always afraid of losing sight of the tension that continues to exist throughout the whole of life. But Pentecost is a day for rejoicing! This is not an easy answer or a cliché to deceive our weary hearts. It’s simply the truth. We are not alone, and we never need to be again! Come, Holy Spirit. Move in our midst and in our hearts. Indwell us. May it be so.

[1] See Hebrews 4:12

[2] See Acts 1:4

[3] Psalm 104:33-34, 35b