The Holy Spirit Defined

Most people acknowledge two major holidays in the Christian tradition: Christmas and Easter.  Maybe that’s thanks to Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, but these two holidays are deeply ingrained in our culture such that even those who don’t attend church regularly will turn up to worship the birth of Christ and his resurrection.

But there is a third holiday that was, at one time, just as important in the Christian faith as Christmas and Easter.  In fact, in the Eastern Orthodox Church, it remains part of the troika of holidays that solidify our faith.  That holiday is Pentecost.

In the west, we aren’t really sure what to do with Pentecost, really.  There isn’t a secular character like Santa or a Bunny to go with it to help attract people’s attention.  There isn’t a tree to decorate or eggs to color.  At most, people know that the color red is somehow connected to Pentecost but that’s about it.

Maybe one of the reasons that Pentecost has lost its stature is because it has to do with that third “person” of the Trinity: The Holy Spirit.  And that’s always been kind of a mystery.

We have a pretty good handle, most of the time, on the other two parts of the Trinity.  We can get our minds around God as the Father or Creator of all that is.  We can understand Christ as the Son; God personified.  But this Holy Spirit part is a bit more amorphous.  It isn’t a character in the bible in the same way as the God of Genesis or the Christ of the crucifixion.  And there certainly aren’t any lawn ornaments of the Holy Spirit to light up the neighborhood for Pentecost!

Pentecost is when we remember that after Jesus returned to heaven, God sent the Holy Spirit to inspire the disciples to go forth and form the church.  It is a pretty dramatic story in the Book of Acts.  That Spirit arrives as wind and flame and causes the disciples to speak in different languages so that everyone can hear the Good News of Jesus.

Pentecost, then, is a good occasion to define the importance of the Holy Spirit as an attribute of God and a key ingredient in our own discipleship.  So let me offer here a good way to remember the value of The Holy Spirit:

The Holy Spirit is the active presence of God in our lives and in our world today.  It prevents the Christian faith from being a matter of history.  It is the dynamic, motivating, healing, inspiring, energy of God in the world today.  It is the bridge that overcomes the gap between this world and the next; between the temporal and the divine; between the ordinary and the holy.

Without the Holy Spirit there would be no churches, no appreciation of beauty, no awareness of God, no need for gratitude, no desire to improve one’s life or our shared life together.  In other words, we would be utterly stagnant each and every day of our lives.

So thanks be to God for this third corner of the Trinity triangle—the Holy Spirit.  And thanks be to God for the nearly forgotten holiday of Pentecost which directs our hearts to this divine source of our faith and of life itself!

See you in church,

–Rev. Dominic