Pentecost Sunday: The Holy Spirit Comes as Tongues of Fire and a Rushing Wind
User’s Guide to Pentecost Sunday
Sunday, June 5, is Pentecost Sunday. Mass readings: Acts 2:1-11; Psalm 104:1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13 or Romans 8:8-17; John 20:19-23 or John 14:15-16, 23b-26.
What a wondrous and challenging feast we celebrate at Pentecost! A feast like this challenges us because it puts to lie a lazy, sleepy and tepid Christian life. The Lord Jesus said to the apostles, “I have come to cast a fire on the earth” (Luke 12:49). This is a feast about that transformative, refining, purifying fire that the Lord wants to kindle in us. Let’s consider two aspects of this feast.
The reading from Acts 2 speaks of the Holy Spirit using two images: rushing wind and tongues of fire.
Notice how today’s text from Acts says “there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were.” The root meaning of the word “spirit” refers to breath. This is preserved in the word “respiration,” which is the act of breathing. So the Spirit of God is the breath of God. Genesis 1:2 says that God had breathed his very breath (Spirit) into Adam. But Adam lost this gift by sinning and died spiritually. Thus, we see in this passage from Acts an amazing and wonderful resuscitation of the human person as these first Christians experience the rushing wind of God’s Spirit breathing spiritual life back into them. The Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us once again as in a temple (1 Corinthians 3:16).
Tongues of Fire
The text from Acts then says, “Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them.” The Bible often speaks of God as fire or in fiery terms: Moses saw him as a burning bush. God led the people out of Egypt through the desert as a pillar of fire. Moses went up on to a fiery Mount Sinai, where God was. So it is that our God, who is a Holy Fire, comes to dwell in us through His Holy Spirit, and he refines us by burning away our sins and purifying us.
God is also preparing us for judgment, for if he is a Holy Fire, then who may endure the day of his coming? Only that which is already fire. Thus, we must be set afire by God’s love and be brought up to the temperature of glory. He purifies us and prepares us to meet him who is a Holy Fire.
The Propagation by the Spirit
In the Psalm response today we sing: “Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the Earth.” Practically, how does the Lord do this? Perhaps a picture will help to illustrate. My parish church is dedicated to the Holy Spirit under the title “Holy Comforter.” The clerestory walls are painted Spanish red, and upon this great canvas are also painted more than 20 saints, the depictions surrounding us like a great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1). Over the head of every saint image is a rendered tongue of fire.
So, this is how the Spirit of the Lord fills the Earth: It is in the fiery transformation of every Christian going forth to bring warmth and light to a cold, dark world. This is how the Lord casts fire upon the earth. This is how the Spirit of the Lord fills the orb of the Earth — in the lives of saints (and in your life and mine)!
A blessed Pentecost to all!