Often enough, it is the image of the tongues of flame which capture the picture of Pentecost. Just think of any booklet you’ve seen for Confirmation. Or consider the motifs on vestments often worn on this day. It is the fire that is pictured.

Yet, to hear again the story of Pentecost, it is the wind—the breath of the Holy Spirit—that carries the weight. Let me read the passage again:

Suddenly [the disciples] heard what sounded like a powerful wind from heaven, the noise of which filled the entire house … They were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak foreign languages as the Spirit gave them the gift of speech … At this sound [the people] all assembled, each one bewildered to hear [them] speaking his own language.

Wind, noise, speech, sound, language. All these images are signs pointing to the presence of God’s Holy Spirit—and not just as some natural phenomenon. The presence of the Holy Spirit was not marked by some chaotic storm, but in a purposefully spoken voice. At Pentecost, God spoke his Spirit—breathed his breath—into the lives of his disciples. The Holy Spirit is the animating Breath of God, who speaks the language of life and purpose and hope.

This is how it was at the beginning. God breathed over the formless deep, bringing inventive shape to all of creation. In the beginning, God spoke out his Spirit into the void to call forth all of creation. And into the lungs of our first parents, God breathed his Spirit of life and likeness. The way of the Holy Spirit is the way of the creative Breath of God.

When God came to us at Pentecost, it was as his re-creative Spirit that he came. Appropriately, then, Pentecost was experienced as a wind that spoke into the lives of those receptive, signalling a new beginning. It was a new breathing forth by God, a re-birth for us. But it was also an awakening. The crowds in Jerusalem heard the sound of God filling the lives of the disciples, and they came to hear their proclamation of the marvels of God.

What was that marvel they heard in their own language? They heard the name of Jesus Christ. We would do well, here, to recall the final words of Jesus on the cross: ‘“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” … he then breathed his last.’ Then, at his resurrection, his first act was to breathe on the disciples, saying, ‘receive the Holy Spirit.’ From out of the last breath of Jesus on the cross and from his first breath at his resurrection, the Spirit of God was released into the world. From Christ, into us. His death and resurrection, our life and hope. The language the crowds marvelled at was the language of the love of Christ in us.

The final words of Jesus come from Psalm 22; they signal our re-birth. I learnt the other day that faithful Jewish families often teach their children to recite Psalm 22 at night before bed. As the night envelopes them in sleep, these children hand over their spirit—their last waking breath—into the divine arms of God, to be received back at the new day. It is a beautiful image. It is that same spirit which we have received, in receiving God’s Holy Spirit.

As we mark the completion of this Easter season, know that the Holy Spirit we have received is calling us now to be enlivened in that new creation God intended for us from the beginning. We truly become a Pentecost people as we breathe in the breath of the crucified and risen Christ.

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful
and kindle in them the fire of your love.
Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created,
and you shall renew the face of the earth.

Banner image: Jean Restout (1692–1768), Pentecost, oil on canvas, 1732, Louvre Museum, Paris.