Prepare to be great

Homily of the month

God’s water-bearers

Sunday after Sunday, we gather to bless ourselves with water, to remember that in the Holy Spirit we are the living water springing up to refresh and heal humanity, writes Bryan Cones in PREPARE THE WORD'S featured homily for Pentecost.

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Occasion: Solemnity of Pentecost: At the Vigil Mass
Readings: Joel 3:1-5; Romans 8:22-27; John 7:37-39

“I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh. Your preschoolers and teenagers shall prophesy, your senators shall dream dreams, and your police officers shall see visions; even upon CEOs and flight attendants, in those days, I will pour out my spirit.”

It’s fairly certain that the prophet Joel could never have imagined the kinds of work we do today or the places we do it, the almost ridiculous variety of how we define and describe ourselves: by our jobs, our grade in school, our family relationships, our neighborhoods, even our Facebook status. But I think it is safe to say that the prophet meant to be as broad as possible when he imagined the last days when God’s spirit was no longer restricted to the many dwelling places Hebrew religion had placed it: Mount Sinai, the tent of meeting in the desert, the ark of the covenant, the temple in Jerusalem, each of which had its special holy group with special access to God’s presence. In God’s dream for Israel the divine spirit knows no boundaries: There is no special people, only God’s people. There is no sacred place, for all creation is alive with the spirit of God.

That is the mystery we celebrate in this Pentecost feast, when God’s Holy Spirit is set loose in a new way by the Resurrection of Christ. On Pentecost, the last days Joel imagined have begun, and we who live in the risen Christ share in the “firstfruits” of the Spirit—the beginning of a harvest that will come to fullness only when all creation is gathered up into the mystery of God. The grace given to us in Pentecost is to know that in the Baptism we have celebrated and renewed in the Easter season we are already part of heaven’s harvest.

But there is more. As Jesus says, the Holy Spirit is not something outside us but something within us, at the very heart of who we are: “Rivers of living water will flow from within [the one] who believes in me.” The mystery of Pentecost is the mystery of God within us, the God who is coming into the world in and through us, who is still drawing forth a harvest. It is the God who is still creating us, as we grow more and more in the image of the risen Christ, as we begin to share now in the reign of God Jesus announced. Our redemption has already begun. We are the fulfillment of what the prophet Joel imagined so many centuries ago. Inasmuch as Christ is alive in us, God’s dream for creation has come to fulfillment.

The mystery of Pentecost is the mystery of God within us, the God who is coming into the world in and through us, who is still drawing forth a harvest.

Imagine a world in which all Christians lived in the knowledge that we are the vessels of God’s Holy Spirit in the world. Wherever we go—to work, to school, to games and PTA meetings, online and on the telephone—God’s Spirit walks and talks and works. Wherever we are—in the office, the classroom, the playground, the highway or subway—the risen Christ preaches and heals and makes whole. And we’re only the “firstfruits,” the early harvest of spring. The grain is not yet fully mature. Imagine a world in which everyone has discovered that in their acts of compassion and mercy and justice, God is taking a fuller step into the world.

We know of course that we human beings only do this so well; there are desert places in our world as yet unwatered by God’s Spirit. Some days selfishness trumps generosity, grumpiness smolders joy, anger thwarts mercy, and the desire to judge rules out compassion. We read about such moments in the newspaper—stories of violence among young people, of greed among bankers, of abandonment of the old and the sick. But we know it, too, in our homes and workplaces—hurtful words shouted at a spouse or child or parent; cheating on a test or taking credit for a colleague’s accomplishments; the failure to share with those in need. Such are God’s labor pains and ours as we await redemption, when God’s dream will be reality in each of us.

That is why, Sunday after Sunday, we gather to bless ourselves with water, to remember that in the Holy Spirit we are the living water springing up to refresh and heal humanity, to soften and strengthen all God’s creation. We remember that the Spirit isn’t stuck only in church; instead it is our privilege to be God’s water-bearers to businesses and homes and schools and playgrounds. In the Holy Spirit we are the wells from which people thirsty for kindness and love, for compassion and mercy, can draw the grace of God. And each time we allow that living water to bubble up, God takes another step into a world groaning for redemption.