The Breath of God
Pentecost Sunday. Fr Joseph Bailham preaches on the creative sighing of God.
An image I often come back to in my own prayer and preaching is that of sighing. The act itself is rather simple—the exhaling of breath—and yet the act can be packed with so much significance and at times different meanings. If I sigh because I have to spend another hour looking at the computer screen considering at a spreadsheet, that act is one in which it feels like life and hope is being sucked out of me (I can neither confirm nor deny that this is a summary of my morning today!).
At other times I might sigh when, say, I’ve cooked something rather splendid, and it just looks and tastes wonderful. That sigh is one of joy and satisfaction often accompanied by a smile.
But I can also sigh, and often do, when I am listening to someone expressing to me some pain that they are undergoing, or some difficult burden they are having to shoulder. My sigh in this instance is one of solidarity.
In scripture, the Lord also sighs. He does so when Martha shares with him the death of her brother, Lazarus (cf. John 11:33). We are told he continued to sigh or ‘be moved in spirit’ as he made his way to the tomb. An obvious reading of this is Christ in solidarity and sharing the grief of Martha, as anybody might when told such sad news.
But we know that Lazarus will be raised from the dead. What gives life, as we see time and again in scripture, is the breath of God. Job says, ‘The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life;’ and in Ezekiel, ‘Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.’ The Lord’s sigh is one of solidarity—as in the case with Martha—but the breathing forth of God is also creative: it gives life and vigour.
This great feast of Pentecost, the birthday of the Church, is the breathing forth of God upon the Apostles, imparting to them newness of life and vitality. Why? For they have a mission that of their own power than cannot fulfil. They are called to proclaim the Gospel to the ends of the earth and to baptise in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Through baptism and confirmation, we too have been made apostles of Christ and are called to proclaim and spread the Gospel in the various contexts of our lives. Most of us will know from our family lives, friendship circles, and workplaces, that witnessing to the Gospel is not always an easy task; then again, has witnessing to the Gospel ever been easy in the history of the church? The extensive list of martyrs would suggest not.
Proclamation of the Gospel requires divine help and our celebration of Pentecost is a celebration that we have been given that help in the person of the Holy Spirit. He empowers us by setting our hearts ablaze with the love of God so as to fulfil the mission entrusted to us. We are given the Holy Spirit, first of all, that we be transformed by divine love and may grow in virtue, perhaps the most excellent form of preaching and witness to the truth of the Gospel; and secondly, that we may preach the Gospel faithfully with conviction and steadfastness at all times and in all places, ‘always… prepared to make a defence to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you’ (1 Peter 3:15).
We all have need to pray for the renewed giving of the Holy Spirit in our lives, for in various ways we come to dampen that divine fire within us. This Pentecost we ask the Lord to send again into our hearts his life-giving Holy Spirit so that He may renew us, and, through us, renew the face of the earth. We ask for the Holy Spirit to give us strength to live our lives with faithfulness and perseverance, through the joys and through the trials, even the trivial ones like having to look at a spreadsheet! Come, Holy Spirit. Come!
Readings: Acts 2:1-11 | 1 Corinthians 12:3-7,12-13 | John 20:19-23
Image: detail from a mosaic at the Cathedral Basilica of St Louis, MO, photographed by prayitnophotography (CC-BY 2.0)
Thank you, Fr Joseph. I think you put that beautifully!
Chia Benard Ful Ful
Thanks for the word.greetings from Cameroon
Fr Stephen Gemme
Well Done Fr Joseph
Fr Stephen from Worcester Massachusetts USA