pentecost, year a: two acts, one action

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Lectionary / New Testament / Pentateuch

In the twentieth chapter of John, Jesus breathes on his disciples and gives them the Holy Spirit.

In the second chapter of Acts the disciples are gathered together, and they receive the Holy Spirit by the coming of a great wind, and tongues of fire.

The timeline here is interesting…Because in the Gospel of John the scene is taking place on the day of Resurrection. Easter Sunday. In Luke, it’s happening on the Day of Pentecost – fifty days after the day of Resurrection. A month and a half after Easter.

Apparently, when the New Testament church talked about the coming of the Holy Spirit, the timing of the event was up for some discussion. There were different traditions, different renderings of the story.

But, what seems to be consistent here is the language of Creation. In the first two verses of the Bible, Genesis 1:1-2, we find: “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was formless and void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” Of course, as every seminary student learns in his or her first week of seminary, the word for wind here is the Hebrew word “ruach,” which can mean “wind,” or “breath,” or “spirit.”

a wind from God swept over the waters
a breath from God swept over the water
a spirit from God swept over the waters

And, in the second chapter of Genesis (the seventh verse), we find this: “then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.”

Of course the Acts account of Pentecost, with it’s wind/breath/spirit coming upon the disciples takes its cue from Genesis. And, Jesus breathing upon his disciples in the Gospel of John is almost copying word-for-word from Genesis 2.

The meaning here is, I think, clear: The event of Pentecost is a Creation event. This is, of course, not a ‘new’ idea. You could wallpaper quite a few houses with the theological and hermeneutical writings which make this connection.

What I think gets lost far too often here though is that it’s not just the Pentecost event that has overtones of Creation, but also the Resurrection: it happens solely by an act of God, on the first day of the week, the Light of God shining forth out of the darkness of death and night. Paul will go on to talk about the Resurrection as a New Creation (especially in Romans 8).

I think it’s helpful in this regard to not separate the Resurrection of Jesus and Coming of the Holy Spirit as two wholly separate and different things. They are two different things, but they have lots of overlap – and they are in a fuller sense two actions of the one-and-the-same sweeping act of God: God reconciling all things to Himself, God making all things new.

God brings forth His New Creation in the Resurrection of Jesus. And, God brings forth His New Creation in the Advent of the Holy Spirit.

When we start with Creation, as the biblical authors certainly do, we not only see the links to the past (the Beginning), and the links to the future (Revelation – and the descent of the Holy City of Zion), but we see what God does: bring forth light out of darkness, rise up life from death, and fashioning the Heavens and the Earth as He sees fit, and us in His image.