By Frank Wessling
Apparently, we Christians can celebrate the feast of Pentecost without realizing that it means assuming responsibility. At least I tended to miss that point until recently. I had associated this feast with a past event involving Jesus ascending and the Holy Spirit descending: two divine actors passing in opposite directions, with the Spirit more like a fog than any firm thing.
What we were supposed to be celebrating for the practical here and now wasn’t clear: perhaps God shape-shifting, intriguing as that may be for scholars to think about, but to what point? Why has the church preserved a memory of this thing, this event, this apparent transition of some sort? Is it really important in following a Christian life?
Our Scriptures picture Jesus leaving this life in order to let the Holy Spirit enter. He made this clear: I must depart so that you may receive the Spirit. Thus, you — meaning us — will be able to do what I have done — and even “greater things” — so that holy unity may be recovered.
In other words, the life of God will be in us as it was in Jesus, and with even a mysterious “greater.” But we have to accept such life. It won’t be forced. We have to read Jesus rightly and fully in order to be divinized, to be God-infused. We have to get over our own reluctance, fear, ignorance and alternate desiring in order for the Spirit of God to be realized in us as it is in Jesus.
He was/is the anointed one of God, the cosmic Christ anticipated by ancient prophets. We are also anointed: designed and expected to be followers and imitators of the original. We were born to build on the foundation of Jesus; to follow the pattern he laid down as each of us sees it in our own life.
At Pentecost the action of salvation shifted from Jesus, the Christ, to his followers, the church of Christ, the community of his way, his truth and his life. The responsibility carried by Jesus to be about his Father’s business is ours in the same way: ours individually and together in communion with one another. We had better be busy about absorbing everything that this means.
What was the “greater” that Jesus said we’d do? We don’t know, we can’t know, until we try; until we trust the Spirit and make a move. Then the mystery of the kingdom of God reveals itself just a little bit more, and still more, through us.
We do know that the “greater” work at least means the worldwide dissolving of barriers, the end of fears and divisions based on distance, time, culture, language, tribe, color and sex. Jesus confined his redeeming work to the tiny geography of the Gospel narrative. Our redeeming work has no geographical limit. We take the presence of God begun for us in Jesus and exercise it through our common work in his Spirit, throughout the Earth.
Our responsibility, if Pentecost means anything, is to be the powerful, self-giving presence of God for the re-union of all humanity. Our anthem on this pilgrimage can begin with the insight of 1 John 4:16: God is love,
And all who abide in love
Abide in God,
And God in them.
(Frank Wessling previously served as editor of The Catholic Messenger.)