Pentecost is one of the great Baptismal days in the Episcopal Church, and in fact it’s one of the great days, period.
The story from Acts of how God poured out his Spirit upon the Blessed Virgin and the disciples is so colorful and exciting. Tongues as of fire! A violent wind! Men and women bursting into the streets with the joy of the Lord! The sudden change of what had looked like a local Jewish renewal movement into a multiethnic, multilingual, multisensory, multieverything, movement with a message for the whole universe. It’s such a gripping moment.
But if we want to understand what that gripping moment has to do with Baptism, and why Episcopalians try to schedule Baptisms on Pentecost, it might be helpful to turn to Jesus’ words in the Gospel of John today. In this section of John, Jesus is giving his farewell teaching to the disciples before he is arrested, and one of the things he wants to bring home to them is the nature and work of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate as Jesus calls him here.
Though it’s in the past for us, when Jesus spoke those words he was telling the disciples about something still in the future for them, and he put it different ways: The Spirit will be in them, the Father will send the Spirit, the Spirit will come. However you phrase it, it was a promise of something that had not happened yet, a mode of connection with God that before Jesus’ Crucifixion and Resurrection and Ascension was not yet available, but that God was planning to make available on Pentecost.
And what will this Spirit do? Apparently he’s going to prove the world wrong about all sorts of important things – maybe we can talk about those the next time this lectionary Sunday comes up – but what concerns us today is that the Spirit’s also going to point, inexorably, to Jesus Christ. Three quotes from the passage:
“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now,” says Jesus. Without the activity of the Holy Spirit, we cannot bear all the truth God has revealed in Christ; the full Christian revelation is too splendid for our finite intellects. Once we receive the Spirit, we have an inner companion who can unfold Jesus to us.
“The Spirit will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears,” says Jesus. The Spirit is not a solo actor, but the intimate conduit, the faithful transmission, of the Gospel and the Biblical message and the experienced power of God to us. He relays with absolute fidelity what the God who became incarnate in Jesus is doing and saying.
“The Spirit will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you,” says Jesus. The Spirit will take all the glories and insights, all the justice and holiness, all the mercy, all the beauty, all the brilliance that belong to Jesus and pass them on to us. In fact, it’s true for the whole Trinity. The Spirit opens onto the life of the Trinity, the Spirit is the one who sweeps us up into that eternal exchange of Love, the one who makes it all real to us. If, by the way, the Christian proclamation of God doesn’t feel real to you, or the doctrine doesn’t seem to apply, or you just don’t get it, pray for the Holy Spirit to work in you. That’s his job.
So I said this all had to do with Baptism and I haven’t mentioned Baptism, so let me mention it. We had two readings: The discourse we heard in John is a teaching about what the Spirit will do, when he comes on Pentecost, in and for people following Jesus. The story that we heard in Acts, the exciting one with the fire and the street scene, is the narrative of that coming on Pentecost, the first time in history the Spirit came in the way Jesus had promised. And it just so happens that the same people in that John reading were also present historically in Jerusalem at Pentecost, the first time in history the Spirit came. Jesus promised it in John, and 50-so days later it happened to them in Acts.
But that doesn’t do us much good. We weren’t there for the discourse in John, we weren’t there that first day the Spirit was given in Acts. How do we get in on this promise? Well, we get in on it by Baptism. From God’s point of view, the moment we are baptized, every single thing that Jesus has for us and did for us, every single thing that the Spirit is deputized to unfold to us, is ours. The door to intimacy with the Trinity is thrown open. We are claimed and marked as Christ’s own forever, sealed with the Holy Spirit.
In a few minutes, after the washing of water and the action of the Spirit, I will mark the Cross of Christ on Pepper Crofts’ forehead, and that Cross will never come off. It’s indelible. From this moment forth, the Spirit will be taking what is Jesus’ and declaring it to her. The Spirit will be bringing her in to the benefits of the Cross and Resurrection. The Spirit will be saying to her all the many things Jesus wants her to know, but she cannot bear yet.
And if you are baptized the same is true for you: It’s indelible. And the Spirit is trying to take what is Jesus’ and declare it to you. The Spirit is trying to bring you in to the benefits of the Cross and Resurrection. The Spirit is trying to teach you all the many things Jesus wants you to know, but you cannot bear yet. And I’ll tell you this: Whether today is the day of your Baptism, or your Baptism was 8 or 18 or 80 years ago, thanks to the work of the Holy Spirit there’s always more. There’s always more.