The Spirit has descended, the disciples speak in tongues, 3,000 come to Christ this day in baptism. Yesterday was the feast of Pentecost. In many ways, it is the celebration of the birth of the Church. Before this day — before the Comforter had come — the disciples were gathered in prayer without knowing how Christ would work in them. I wonder what those 10 days between Christ’s ascension and the coming of the Spirit felt like. Did they worry that they had been hoodwinked? Did they doubt? I’m sure it would have been difficult to disbelieve when they had seen the risen Christ, touched him, eaten with him, felt the holes in his hands and side. Most of us are not so lucky. I have never put my hand in the side of Christ. I did not watch him ascend. But despite this, somehow, I continue to follow him.
Thinking about the 3,000 who were baptized that day, I think back to my own baptism. I was 14. My parents were nominally Christian, but we didn’t attend church anywhere. At the start of junior high, I became friends with a local, non-denominational pastor’s son. Spending time with him, I knew there was something missing from my life. So after knowing him and attending his church for over a year, I finally submitted to baptism. I had hoped this would put to flight all my sins. It didn’t. I’m still a sinner. I still fail at repentance on a daily basis. Some days I feel so downtrodden that getting up, that doing any work at all, is difficult.
Within days of Pentecost, the Church was already having problems. Ethnic biases were causing trouble in the care for the most vulnerable of their newfound community, one that was already meant to be overcoming biases, and yet it was floundering. I find hope in this. The people who actually followed Christ, who saw him die, who saw him resurrected, who saw him ascend, who felt the Holy Spirit move them to proclaim the Gospel and be heard by thousands in their native tongues — even they failed sometimes.
I think it can be easy to look to the sacraments as magical spells, either constraining God to do what we want or so overcoming us that we will only do what is right after we receive them. But if that was not the case for those baptized at Pentecost, then it is unlikely to be the case for you or for me. I do not mean to denigrate the sacraments; they are real conveyors of God’s grace. But we have to participate with God, working out our salvation in fear and trembling. Yes God does it all, and yet he also calls us to the mission of our own holiness as well as spreading his message to all the world.
And of course, this leads to the final part of Pentecost. We are not meant to stop at our own salvation. My holiness is not the only concern that I have. I must also seek to spread the Gospel of life to the world. And to all the world. To my neighbor, to the poor and oppressed who live in my land, to the land itself and all that live on it. This too I often fail at, but it is my calling and yours too if you are a follower of Christ.
At the age of 14, I had no way of knowing where this life with Christ would lead me. I was led out of the non-denominational church where I first met Christ and, through many highways and byways, to the Catholic Church. Even now I am still journeying. The pilgrimage is not over. I still must learn and grow and meet my Savior wherever I find him. That is the Pentecost message. The disciples who knew Christ still needed the Spirit and even then had to grow in their love for Christ. There is a reason the earliest name for Christianity was the Way. It is just that — a path which, when followed, will lead to Christ. Some days, like Dante, I fall off the path. But by the grace of God, I find my way back. I pray that when you fall, someone is there to help get you back onto the path too.
Come, Holy Spirit.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. David Russell Mosley is a poet and theologian living and teaching in the Inland Northwest. His debut book of poetry, “The Green Man,” is available from Resource Publications. In his spare time, Dr. Mosley likes wandering around in the woods, spending time in community and smoking a pipe.