When the ‘Holy Bird’ came at Pentecost
The Holy Spirit is traditionally represented by the dove, the “holy bird”. FRANCIS AMPONSAH OP reflects on the meaning of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples.
A learned Japanese writer once said: “I think I understand about God the Father and the Son, but I can never understand the significance of the ‘Honourable Bird’.”
The Holy Spirit has traditionally eluded the comprehension of scholars and preachers — a bird in flight resists capture.
This bird-like Spirit flies higher than any aeroplane; it flies across the vast expanse of lands and oceans; it could go down the valleys, along creeks and above the highest mountains. It brings blessings, healing, new life and hope.
It is difficult to contain or even describe “Spirit”. However, spirit-talk suggests life, movement and energy. We talk of creative energy in inspiration; an energy which has the power to break through barriers, break records, and go beyond the expected and the mediocre; the energy that breaks through the locked doors of convention and is not bound by any kind of restriction.
This divine energy is manifested in creation, when it brought life out of nothing. The Spirit is that Breath of Life that came from God and made humans living beings (Gen 1: 1; 2:18-26). The same divine energy, the Spirit, also showed his presence and power in the form of Pillar of Fire and Cloud to protect and guide the pilgrim people of God as the march to freedom across the desert (Ex 14).
This divine energy is the Consuming Fire that ate up the sacrifice of Elijah, the prophet when he challenged the false prophets. The same Spirit lived in the prophets who spoke courageously against the social, moral and religious evils of their time. Mary, the virgin, was overshadowed by the power of God, the Holy Spirit, at the conception of Jesus (Lk 1:18 ). This “Honourable Bird” appeared again at the baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan (Mt 3).
Now, 50 days after the resurrection of Jesus, a group of dispirited followers of Jesus had gathered and locked themselves in the Upper Room.
There was more perspiration than inspiration in the room; there was fear and suspicion, and they listened attentively to every footstep on the staircase; waiting for the executioners to knock at the door. They must have been praying that no one would discover their hiding place.
In contrast to their expectation, there came the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit; the Spirit takes this group of dispirited folk and fills them with new energy, enthusiasm and confidence.
The presence of the Holy Spirit takes away fear, and makes the disciples open their lives to others. The Holy Spirit bears the fruits of love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness and faithfulness (Gal 5:22).
One interesting thing about Pentecost is that all those who receive the different gifts of the Holy Spirit spoke the same message that was understood by everyone who gathered in Jerusalem from various cultures and nations of the world. The message is LOVE.
Love has the same sound, texture, effect and power in every person, culture, race and country. When love becomes the language we all speak, the powerful breath of God will energise everyone.
For the Jewish believers the feast of Pentecost was a harvest celebration. For the Christian community it is the celebration of God’s planting the Holy Spirit to bring about a spiritual harvest.
Jesus breathes upon them and offers them the same breath or Spirit that brought about order from chaos as recounted in the book of Genesis. He is telling them that as he was sent into the world to bring order into the lives of all, so they were as well, the incarnations of the Spirit who themselves are sent to bring order out of chaos.
No more sitting around and worrying or wondering who we are and what we are to do. Jesus did not give them any further instruction except to “Go”—“As the Father sent me, so am I sending you” (Jn 20-21). This in itself was encouraging and energising.
The “Honourable Bird” was now flying in and through them.
Francis Amponsah OP is based at the Dominican house in Pietermaritzburg