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Pentecost 2020

Lockdown seems to have launched us into our very own version of Groundhog Day. Every day is the same. Every day is either Someday or Blursday. There is little to distinguish one day of the week from another. Every day brings beautiful sunny weather. Every day brings one of the same three walks. Every day brings a phone call to the family where we have nothing new to talk about. Every day brings a Coronavirus update on the news. Every day is the same as every other day. And I thought I’d lost the plot entirely when I looked up the Gospel reading for today – didn’t we have that just after Easter? I had to check; yes, we did. Like so many other things, it’s come round again, as though the disciples, like us, are still stuck in behind closed doors, as though nothing has changed, as though they and we will perpetually be stuck in our house, fearful and wary.

Today is the day of Pentecost, the day of fire and wind and crowds and tongues and being sent out, being driven out by the Spirit into the wild places of the world. But life couldn’t feel less Pentecosty for me. Not like the Acts version of Pentecost. Not the excited, transforming, burning version. I seem to be stuck. Stuck somewhere in a Lenty, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Groundhog Day theological fuddle.

So maybe the Groundhog Day of John is helpful. In John, Easter and Pentecost are the same day, the same thing. It was still the first day of the week. Easter morning had happened yet still the disciples were afraid. Still they hid away, unable to see because of their tears and their fears. There is no rushing wind, no tongues of flame, just breath and peace. Jesus’ breath and Jesus’ peace in their stuckness.

It was the first day of the week. The coming of the Spirit is a new thing, because it’s always a new thing, yet at the same time it was nothing new, it is nothing new. It was the first day of the week. On the first day of the first week, in the Genesis account of creation, the Spirit, the wind of God, sweeps over the waters. The first day of the week. The Spirit moving, breathing life into all things, intimately present in every cell, every drop of water, every grain of sand. The Holy Spirit, present at the beginning of the world, present before the beginning of the world, particularly present in Jesus and presented to us as a gift. The Spirit comes again in a sort of divine Ground Hog day.

But with the Holy Spirit, things don’t ever really stand still. That’s the Spiritiness of the Holy Spirit. She is always moving, always changing, always creating, always transforming, even we apparently seem to be stuck.

In the movie Groundhog Day, Phil the TV weatherman wakes each morning to relive the same day. Again and again and again and again. Even though he is stuck in the same small town with the same small events unfolding round him each day, he is transformed. Slowly, slowly, he is changed. Not in one single dramatic event, but incrementally, by degrees. And I think that it the sort of change, the sort of Spirit I am experiencing this Pentecost, the Spirit that is always there, has always been there, but is most particularly there in Jesus, most particularly there when we pray together, worship together, gather together, even through Zoom.

So, if this is not the whizzy, fizzy sort of Spirit, or not for now, not for me today at least; what change does this quiet, ever present, groundhog day Spirit bring. How does the Spirit change us when every day is the same?

The answer lies, as it does so often, in the person of Jesus. On the first day of the week, Jesus came and stood among them. The first day of the week. Sunday. Easter Sunday. The last time Jesus had seen his friends was on Thursday, the Thursday of the last supper and the Garden of Gethsemane. The last time he saw his friends, it was a glimpse of their retreating backs as they fled the scene of soldiers and abandoned him. The last time he heard them, it was the voice of Peter, drifting in from the courtyard of the high priest flatly denying that he knew him. Jesus came and stood among them and says ‘Peace be with you.’ Not words of anger, of judgement. There’s no rebuke. He doesn’t blame or make anyone feel guilty for their desertion, their lack of trust, their lack of faith. No, despite all their inadequacies, their inconsistencies, he loves them. In his words, in his very person, Jesus embodies forgiveness, the sort of forgiveness that releases us from the ties of guilt and sets us free.

Jesus quietly breaths his Spirit on us and changes us, incrementally, by degrees. By letting us know that we are loved, that we are forgiven. And then sending us, empowering us, do go and do the same, to let the whole world know that they are loved, they are forgiven. We are sent by the Spirit, incrementally and by degrees, to do Jesus’ work, to liberate this world from hate, violence, injustice. For many of us this will never be in grand, wild ways, but more like Phil the weatherman in Groundhog Day, by small courageous acts, by finding and using new gifts, by changing the world by degrees.

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