You might be forgiven for not realising that this Sunday is the third great feast of the Christian year – Pentecost. The story is told in Acts 2, read today.
During his ministry, Jesus had assembled a group – 12 men, and others including women. At first they listened and watched, then they were sent on mission, to practice and learn how God could use them. More learning followed, especially at the Passion, with some shock as God’s plan worked out, and they all failed rather badly – which was part of learning to trust God, not least his forgiveness. Jesus is raised from the dead. It takes a while to sink in, but they come to terms with the new reality.
But then comes the Ascension – the Son of God returns to heaven, and they are told to wait. 50 days after Easter, on the Jewish feast of Pentecost, there comes an EXPLOSIVE change. A violent wind – fire. The group which had hidden away in fear bursts out; Peter preaches a public sermon through which 3000 people are converted and baptised. The Holy Spirit, known before as a welcome occasional visitor, has come to stay with believers. In time they would learn the full wonder of his character, including a gentler, transforming side. But the first impact, causing the birth of the Church, can rightly be called dramatic, powerful, even violent.
Now, as then, Christians have to learn to live with the Holy Spirit. In some ways it is a continuation of having Jesus close by – he still directs operations and gives authority – but it is different. The Holy Spirit is everywhere, but not quite like a person. The Spirit guides and makes Jesus known, but, as the gospel (John 14:15-17 + 25-27) says, he can only be received or consulted or drawn on by Christians – because others don’t see or recognise him.
At Pentecost, some of the crowd thought the excitement was drunkenness, but others heard in their own languages the praise of God’s deeds of power. That is where we start. Not in a private party, giving rise to sneers about how we have celebrated, but in making known the God who is good, and sharing what we know of his plans for our community and our time. Maybe it still needs an explosion -?