Brothers and sisters,
It is hard to believe it, but June is upon us! The (very) high temperatures are becoming more regular and the sun is shining longer and longer each day. To me at least, it feels like Easter was just a couple weeks ago, not a month and a half! But as the Easter season comes to a close this Sunday we are invited, as a church, to contemplate the arrival of the Holy Spirit and what that arrival means for us as Christians. There are three main symbols used by the church to reflect on Pentecost and what it means.
The first symbol is a flame. Drawing on the story from Acts 2 when the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples as tongues of fire, the church has used fire imagery to symbolize the arrival of the Spirit. The church talks about the Holy Spirit “lighting a fire” in us to go and do the work of the kingdom. You’ll hear people say they have a “burning passion” for something. Famously, John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, spoke of attending a church service and having his “heart strangely warmed.” That moment renewed his faith and spurred him to continue to preach. The Holy Spirit creates a kind of energy that fire represents so beautifully — strong and persistent.
The second symbol you’ll see on Sunday is a dove. This is actually a symbol that gets moved from where it originally started over to Pentecost. The dove descending from heaven comes to us from Christ’s baptism in Matthew 3. Jesus goes down into the waters of baptism, led by John the Baptist, and as he emerges from the waters, “suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw God’s Spirit descending like a dove and alighting on him” (Matthew 3:16). And so the dove comes to us as a heavenly symbol of the Holy Spirit’s presence.
Finally, you’ll notice a lot of red in the sanctuary on Sunday. The paraments, the scarf on the cross, even Amy’s and my stoles will all be red. On the surface, the red symbolism is pretty simple — it hearkens back to the tongues of fire. Heat and fire can be represented by the color red. But for a long time now, the color red, as a liturgical color, has symbolized a desire for justice. It has come to represent the arrival of God’s Spirit, yes, but also a church that speaks up for those whose voices are ignored. I particularly like this symbol because I think it speaks to the main point of the Pentecost story. Yes, the Holy Spirit descends upon the disciples with power, in the form of flaming tongues. God’s presence is reestablished with them, but the Spirit then immediately sends them out into the world to care for people. The Spirit immediately sends them out to continue Christ’s ministry. It does not descend upon them for no reason! The Holy Spirit comes to guide them to the people who are hurting and give them power to help them.
As we come to Pentecost this year, seek the Spirit’s presence in your own life. Who may the Spirit be calling you to? How might God be calling you to help those people? Jesus’s ministry was centered around his conviction that every person was a child of God. How is the Spirit leading you to continue that ministry?
I look forward to seeing all of you on Sunday in your brightest red!
Grace and peace,