They didn’t know exactly what they were waiting for, but they knew they needed to be together. That’s what first strikes me about Pentecost – a.k.a. what we’re about to celebrate on Sunday. We’re told that the people who were closest to Jesus “were all together in one place” (Acts 2:1). It wasn’t just the apostles. His mother and brothers were there too. They didn’t all claim to understand him in his fullness; how could they? But they all loved him and missed him, and as long as he wasn’t there as he was before, it felt better to be with other people who loved and missed him too.
It had been over a week since they last saw Jesus. For a while after Easter, they kept seeing him – in locked rooms, along the road, on the lakeshore.
This last time, though, was different. They were back on the Mount of Olives, where he’d been arrested not too long before. Jesus told them that they’d receive power when the Holy Spirit came – but he didn’t tell them when it would happen or what exactly it would be like. Only that this Spirit – or Advocate, as it’s sometimes translated – would be with them forever. And then “a cloud took him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9). He was gone.
And in Luke’s account anyway, the Spirit hadn’t come yet – at least not in full force. So they stayed together and prayed and waited. We’ll hear more on Sunday about what happened next, but it’s this in-between time that interests me now.
I’m in one of those in-between times myself. By the time this is posted, I’ll be getting ready for my Grandma’s funeral. My family and I will be together, as we were in the days keeping vigil before she died. We don’t all claim to have understood her – at least as she was in her fullness. We all know pieces, and by being together we have more of the whole. But we all love and miss her, and as long as she’s not with us as she was before, it feels better to be together.
The good news, of course, is that the Spirit that sustained her all her life is still with us and will be forever. We might not feel it as the rush of a violent wind at this point; at least I don’t. The Spirit’s presence with me is quiet right now, as quiet and sustaining as the breath that’s keeping me alive.
I love that the Hebrew word for “spirit” (ruach) can be translated as both breath and wind. It speaks to the different ways that God’s Spirit is present with us. Sometimes it’s undeniably strong; it feels powerful. And sometimes it just doesn’t. But it’s no less present or real – or powerful, for that matter.
Someday I’ll feel the Spirit like a gale force wind again. It will give me the ability to speak with force and conviction about God’s deeds of power in whichever corner of the world I find myself, as it did Jesus’ first followers. But until then, I take comfort that the Spirit is no less with us when it’s all we can do to keep breathing. It’s with us in each and every breath, whether we notice it or not. It will even be with us when we stop breathing. Thanks be to God – when Jesus promised that the Spirit would be with us forever, he really meant forever.