You could imagine them if nothing changed, getting together once in a while to “remember when”. At first, the absence of Jesus might have occasioned some sense of loss, or sadness, or even grief. At first, they would talk about how he disappeared – like Bilbo Baggins on his eleventy-first birthday – and wonder where he’d gone, what heaven was like, and whether they’d go there when their time came. They would have little bits of this and that to remind them of places they’d been with him, things he’d said to them, events they had gone through together.
Over time, the hard edge would come off the grief and loss, the memories a bit hazy and warmed by hindsight. They would laugh more, cry less, and say they should get together more often, when in fact, the gatherings would be rarer as time passed. They would talk about their children and grandchildren, and the passing of so much time so swiftly would amaze them every time. It wouldn’t have been a bad life, really.
But something did happen, and they were shaken out of their stupour by the very thing Jesus had told them to expect – the Holy Spirit. They were awakened to a world hungry for hope and dignity, and human beings ready to claim some nobler purpose than fending off fear and scarcity. The minute the Holy Spirit passed through the room, they were out on the street, telling people a new story, one to replace the dismal story of stuff, status and power that raised some to the top, condemned most to the bottom, and stole from all the human birthright that calls us to work for compassion, for justice, for love.
What might have been a little club of people remembering when became a powerful agency serving God’s mission in and for the world. They would live like Jesus, and many of them would die like Jesus. Neither their living nor their dying would be easy, but at least it would matter, for God’s sake.
It wasn’t just that they saw and understood the world’s hunger and God’s desire to respond to that hunger. They saw themselves as part of how God could – how God would address that hunger. Something happened to them – the Spirit blew across the reed of their lives, and a new song emerged, buoyant and confident, bold and brassy. The wind and the fire changed them.
In Postcards from Cambodia, Bruce Cockburn sings these lines about the killing fields:
And this is too big for anger, it’s too big for blame;
we stumble through history so humanly lame –
so I bow down my head, say a prayer for us all,
that we don’t fear the Spirit when it comes to call.
That’s as close as I’ve seen to a perfect lyric for Pentecost. Until the Spirit comes, fear governs – like so many-most-all of us – the lives of those disciples. This Spirit who comes is the “perfect love” (John 4.18) that “casts out fear”. Casts out fear the way a people might rise up and throw out the government. That’s one way – a good way – to think about our baptism. Renouncing the government of fear by which Love’s adversary confounds Love’s purposes, and embracing a government of Love, of the Spirit, of the One whose coming ought never to make us afraid – for this is God’s wind and fire, come to make us whole and restore us to our rightful work and service.