O Lord, still me. Let my mind be inquiring, searching. Save me from mental rust. Deliver me from spiritual decay. Keep me alive and alert. Open me to your truth. O Lord, teach me so that I may live in your Spirit. Amen. (adapted from The Sacrament of the Word by D. Coggan)
On Friday night, you could feel the Spirit alive at Masuk High School. People were gathered from Monroe & Trumbull to celebrate life, to remember and to fight back against cancer. So many people were engaged in the cause that it was awe inspiring. At the Luminaria Ceremony, it was very moving to see people walking silently around the track, you could only hear the rustle of fee, each one with a glow stick, surrounded by those luminaria lit to remember loved ones who have died and honor the living. It was a fitting tribute for the place was alive with God’s spirit, because it was all about life. (The Nicene Creed reminds us that the Holy Spirit is the giver of life.)
Yesterday afternoon, 11 different churches gathered at Trinity Church in Southport for our deanery confirmation. Many people came before Bishop Ian to be confirmed or received in this church and the Spirit was alive in that church as we sang and prayed and broke bread together. Ray Lopez from St. Peter’s was confirmed The laying on of hands by the bishop and the prayerful presence of so many people gathered, made you feel that God was in the room at that moment.
This morning we are gathered once again at our altar for the Holy Eucharist, to taste and see that the Lord is good. Today we will welcome Benjamin Wokanvoicz into the Body of Christ, as he is baptized. In Baptism, each of us was sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever. In Baptism, we become part of the body of Christ, for there is one Body and One Spirit.
At Confirmation, we recognize those baptismal vows and once again the Spirit is recognized as force in our lives. It is that Spirit that is given to each of us at our baptism and remembered in our confirmation, the Spirit of God that guides us for the common good, and at Relay for Life on Friday night, our faith was put into action and the same spirit that was with us at our baptism and confirmation was alive that night on that field at Masuk.
Come Holy Spirit; breathe on us and set us free.
Our Scriptures tell us two different accounts of the bestowal of the Holy Spirit upon the gathered church. In the Acts of the Apostles we have the big public event, with lots of people and dramatic special effects. The event takes place on the Day of Pentecost, fifty days after Easter.
In the Gospel of John, the Spirit comes to the disciples on Easter Day, in the evening, in an intimate setting. Jesus gave his gift of peace to the disciples and "breathed on them" to commission them: "as the Father has sent me, so I send you" (John 20:21).
They were "all together in one place [when] suddenly there came from heaven a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability" (Acts 2:1-4).
The word Spirit in Hebrew & in Greek comes from the word for wind or breath. They are two different stories but they each speak to the power of God’s spirit that frees us from fear and sends us out to use the gifts God has given us for the world. Emmett Jarrett my former spiritual director put it this way,
Come Holy Spirit; breathe on us and set us free.
“Two very different pictures of the gift of the Holy Spirit to the church at Pentecost confront us in our readings. But both of them speak the same message of the Spirit's power to triumph over death and sin, and the church's commission to proclaim the Gospel of new life and forgiveness to the world.”
The Spirit is always active in our world. We need to look for it; to see it in our lives, happening at our Church, in the fields at our schools and even unexpected places…
It is the Spirit that set Casals free from the bondage of that arthritis to do as God gave him breath to do, to give life with the beautiful gift of music. God has formed us into a community, the church, an instrument for bringing his life and love into our world. But what makes our Church more than just a gathering of good people is his “breath” infusing the Church with his Spirit to go and use the gifts we have.
In the last years of his life, the great cellist and conductor Pablo Casals suffered greatly from rheumatoid arthritis and emphysema. At 90, he was badly stooped and his head pitched forward; his breathing was labored. He needed the help of his wife, Marta, to get dressed in the morning. Marta would then help him shuffle into his studio where he would, with great difficulty, arrange himself on the piano bench. Casals would then manage to raise his swollen, clenched fingers above the keyboard. A visitor describes what he saw one particular morning:
“I was not prepared for what was about to happen. The fingers slowly unlocked and reached toward the keys like the buds of a plant toward the sunlight. His back straightened. He seemed to breathe more freely. Now his fingers settled on the keys. Then came the opening bars of Bach’s Wohltemperierte Klavier [Well-tempered Clavier], played with great sensitivity and control . . . He hummed as he played, then said that Bach ‘spoke to him here’ — and he placed his hand over his heart.
“Then he plunged into a Brahms concerto and his fingers, now agile and powerful, raced across the keyboard with dazzling speed. His entire body seemed fused with the music; it was no longer stiff and shrunken but supple and graceful and completely freed of its arthritic coils. “Having finished the piece, he stood up by himself, far straighter and taller than when he had come into the room. He walked to the breakfast table with no trace of a shuffle, ate heartily, talked animatedly, finished the meal, then went for a walk on the beach.” [From Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient: Reflections on Healing and Regeneration by Norman Cousins.]
Today we celebrate the presence of God in our midst, that promised gift on Pentecost. In Jesus’ breathing upon the assembled disciples the new life of the Spirit, the community of the Resurrection — the Church — takes flight and is free. In the outpouring of the Spirit on the disciples from the book of Acts, they go out to speak the Good News to everyone.
That same Spirit continues to blow through our Church giving life and direction to our mission and ministry, to preach the Gospel to every nation, and to guide us in all that we do. For today we are called to walk in that Spirit, for the Spirit also blows through us to the world. How will we use our God given gifts today?
Come Holy Spirit; breathe on us and set us free. Amen.