Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
On Sunday, May 31, we will be celebrating Pentecost, the birthday of the church and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. One of the ways we describe the Holy Spirit is that of Comforter, who eases our distresses, encourages us, and comes to us in times of trouble to remind us of Jesus’ presence and promises.
When we read the Pentecost story from Acts there’s nothing particularly comforting about the rush of a “violent wind”, let alone descending tongues of flame. And once the disciples take their new multi-lingual ability into the streets of Jerusalem, pretty much everyone who witnesses their activity is described as “bewildered,” “amazed,” and “astonished.” The Spirit didn’t comfort anyone but instead prompted the disciples to make a very public scene with the troubling good news that the person the crowds had put to death was alive through the power of God.
The Holy Spirit is as much agitator as advocate, as much provocateur as comforter. The word “paraclete” captures all these dimensions of the work of the Holy Spirit. Paraclete is a compound Greek word that literally means “to come alongside another.” In this sense, the Paraclete can be an advocate – to come alongside to defend and counsel – or comforter – to come alongside to provide comfort and encouragement. The one who comes alongside of us to encourage and equip us for the task of ministry is such a perfect name for the Holy Spirit . . . especially in the uncertain and challenging times in which we are living.
In the Gospels Jesus says, “Go and make disciples,” and “When you are caring for the least of these you are caring for me” and “Love one another as I have loved you.” Since this kind of work can be difficult Jesus sends the Holy Spirit, the one who comes alongside us to encourage, equip, strengthen, provide and, yes, at times to comfort us so that we can get out there and do it all again. We have been joined by our Baptism into a community of faith that looks for – and expects – the Holy Spirit to come alongside us and shake things up, preparing and equipping all of us to share the disruptive, surprising, and life-giving word of grace of the God who will not rest until all people experience abundant life.
Come alongside, Holy Spirit! Come alongside . . .