Saturday, 19 May 2018

Vigil of Pentecost

Readings: Genesis 11:1-9 / Exodus 19:3-8a, 16-20b / Ezekiel 37:1-14 / Joel 3:1-5; Psalm 104; Romans 8:22-27; John 7:37-39

It may not be much help to people who are given to complaining, moaning, groaning and lamenting but there is this re-assurance in being able to do these things: it means you are still alive. There is this further re-assurance: God can do something with your groaning even if family members and friends are, eventually, at a loss. God, ever creative, can find ways of turning your groaning towards fuller life. So to complain, moan, groan and lament means you are, at least, still alive. But it also means that you are still at a distance from the fulness of life.

There are levels of life, brought out clearly in the reading from Ezekiel 37 which is one of the options for the Vigil of Pentecost. There is the 'sinew-flesh-skin' stage of life: 'O bones', we might say. There is the 'being a human animal' stage of life: 'O breath', we can say. There is the 'being in relationship with God' level of life: now we can hear God say 'O people'. This is the remarkable trajectory of life flowing from the breath of the Holy Spirit, from being nothing more than dry bones to knowing that God is the Lord, from being really dead (and so having something, finally, to complain about) to being really alive.

Even with the first-fruits of the Spirit there is space for lamenting, moaning, groaning and complaining. Paul teaches us this in the New Testament reading from Romans 8. Because we are not yet fully alive we wait, and we hope, and we do not know how to pray. We are, at this stage, rarely fully ourselves, and we need the Spirit to express our real desires, we need the Spirit if we are even to understand the gifts bestowed on us by God.

Finally there is a level of life made possible only through the glorification of Jesus. What kind of life is this? It is the life of a human being from whose heart are flowing rivers of living water. It is a remarkable, mystical, vision, of one who has become a source of wisdom, compassion, and love. We need poets like John of the Cross and artists like William Blake or Marc Chagall to help us imagine the reality of this new creation. How far this supernaturalised human being is from the valley of dry bones which is nevertheless our starting place and remains, always, the place to which our bodies will return.

The Spirit-filled person is not just alive, but is a nourisher of life. He or she is not just loved, but is a lover. He or she is not just gifted, but becomes a giver of gifts. It is the fruitful, generative, fertile, stage of the life of grace (and not necessarily tied to chronological age), to be one who has not only been brought to life but has been made into a life-giving source.

We will hear it repeated again this weekend, that Pentecost is the birthday of the Church, the moment in the paschal mystery of Christ when his body which is the Church is brought to new life, re-created and resurrected, made to be alive with the same Spirit that raised him from the dead. Often, perhaps, we feel more like 'vigil of Pentecost' people than 'Pentecost people' in the full sense. We continue to wait for, and to hope for, a deeper flowing of life in us and through us, even while believing that we have already been sealed in the Spirit and have received him as a pledge of the fulness of life that is yet to be revealed.

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