Though Luke and John disagree on the date the of Spirit’s first arrival, along with Paul they insist that the Spirit’s an essential element of the Christian community’s experience.
All three attempt to answer the same question. If Jesus isn’t among us any longer in his historical body, how can we be certain we’re carrying on his ministry the way we’re supposed to? Their answer is the same: Those who carry on Jesus’ ministry have Jesus’ Spirit.
Luke situates the Spirit’s arrival on the Jewish feast of Pentecost: the day on which Yahweh’s followers especially remembered the covenant they made with him/her on Mount Sinai. That formal agreement transformed a bunch of runaway slaves into the people of God. Luke reasoned that Jesus’ followers became God’s new community when they received the Holy Spirit. The reception of that Spirit was the outward sign they were committed to the same unique covenant with Yahweh that Jesus had made during his earthly ministry.
John, on the other hand, has the Spirit arrive on Easter Sunday night, reinforcing his theology that those who commits themselves to die and rise with Jesus will quickly discover they have the same Spirit guiding them which guided their mentor. The Spirit’s an automatic “byproduct” of one’s coming to life with Jesus.
Yet, each of today’s writers is also convinced that the Spirit provides opportunities for us to die over and over again with Jesus.
Notice that the images Luke employs to accompany the Spirit’s infusion are wind, noise and fire – all rather violent phenomena. Though the Spirit might at times bring us some longed-for consolation, on most occasions the Spirit leaves us with lots of consternation. If we’re open to receiving Jesus’ Spirit, then we’ve open to the disturbing forces which led him to suffer and die. We shouldn’t be surprised to experience some agonies in the garden, or in the living room, or in the car, when we realize the implications of carrying on Jesus’ ministry. Being other Christs is the most fulfilling part of our existence, but the Spirit sees to it that it’s also the most disturbing.
John deliberately hooks up the Spirit’s arrival with our forgiveness of one another’s sins. His Jesus seems to believe that only the Spirit can enable us to actually accomplish such a feat. Without giving ourselves over to the Spirit working in our lives, we’d be doing much more retaining than forgiving. Those whom Jesus sends forth with the Spirit are expected to carry out the Spirit’s forgiveness.
In chapters 12, 13, and 14 of I Corinthians, Paul explores the phenomenon of the Spirit’s habit of bringing us together at the same time he/she tempts us to tear ourselves apart. As he states in today’s pericope, each of us has a part of the Spirit “for some benefit.” We’re blessed with the Spirit’s gifts for the common good. Yet as the Apostle discovered, we can employ our special gifts for the detriment, not the benefit of the community. He’s forced to begin his section on the Spirit by reminding his readers, “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; different forms of service but the same Lord; different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone.” He believes we’re as diverse as individual parts of a body, yet as one as that same body. We constantly have to learn how to live in the midst of that God-given tension.
Perhaps that’s why, as a child, the only time I called on the Spirit was during exams. It was too much of a hassle to have the Spirit around at other times.