Our Christian sacred authors don't agree on a timeline for the Holy Spirit's arrival. Yet they all agree on the importance and necessity of the Spirit's presence in the community.
As we hear in our first reading from Acts, Luke locates the Spirit's arrival during the Jewish feast of Pentecost. John, in today's gospel, situates the event on Easter Sunday night. One of the reasons the "official" church bought into Luke's chronology instead of John's revolves around its desire to create a "liturgical year." It made more sense to spread out these special moments, celebrating them at different times, than to group them together in one feast.
Yet it's easy to understand why Luke chooses Pentecost and John Easter for the Spirit's arrival.
Pentecost, or Weeks, commemorates Yahweh giving the law to the Israelites on Mt. Sinai during the Exodus. That event, and the accompanying covenant, formed a band of runaway slaves into the People of Yahweh. They were now the Chosen People, picked by God to carry out God's will.
In a parallel way, Luke tells his readers the Holy Spirit transforms us into Jesus' People. The Spirit supplies the force which helps us both perceive what the risen Jesus wants us to do and gives us the power to do it.
John places Jesus' infusion of the Spirit on Easter Sunday night because the Spirit is an essential part of the new life Jesus received on that day; the life he shares with all who are willing to die with him. In other words, the Spirit helps us become other Christs.
No matter if we buy into Luke's theology or John's, or a combination of both, Paul helps us understand what it means for the Spirit to be in our lives. According to the Apostle, those who imitate Jesus quickly discover they can no longer think or reason the way they did before they began to believe. They now think about new things, and reason in new ways.
"Those who are in the flesh," Paul tells the community at Rome, "cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh; on the contrary, you are in the spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in you . . . . For if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live." Just as Jesus became a "new creation" through his dying and rising, those who carry on his ministry become new creations when they imitate his dying and rising.
Through the centuries many Christians pushed the Holy Spirit to the outskirts of their faith. Once people began to regard the Galilean carpenter as a founder of a new religion instead of a proclaimer of God's present kingdom, the Spirit became more and more irrelevant. Forced by our Scriptures to acknowledge this force in the lives of Jesus' first followers, we created a yearly feast, revolved a formal sacrament around bestowing this power on young people and stressed the importance of Spirit-directed prayers during school exams. But more and more we relied on the church structures we created to guide us in the everyday living of our faith, conveniently exchanging Luke's fire, wind and noise metaphors for that of a peaceful, docile dove. We conceived of the Spirit solely as a comforter, and refused to acknowledge the Spirit as an instigator. By doing so, we exchanged the most freeing element of our faith experience for institutional security.
Perhaps one step in returning to our early Christian Spirit-filled faith would be to make Paul's statement to the church at Rome a part of our daily "spiritual" reading. "For those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a Spirit of adoption, through whom we cry, Abba . . . ."