Posted: 5/31/20 at 12:30pm. Written by Barrett Owen.
Pentecost is here! It is the week we remember the events from Acts 2 when the Spirit-Promised becomes the Spirit-Provided.
The story goes like this: Jesus ascends into heaven and his presence is replaced by the Holy Spirit when it descends like tongues of fire on all people filling their tongues and lungs with God’s message of love as they speak in many languages to many tribes.
In light of this Christian holiday, though, I’m reminded that in both the Hebrew and Greek, the word for “spirit” means “breath” or “to breathe.” As in, “I can’t breathe.”
After the recent murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis by a police officer, I can’t help but feel, in my soul, how Floyd’s death connects to Pentecost. The arresting police officer pressed down for five minutes on Floyd’s neck with his knee while Floyd screamed, “I can’t breathe.”
Pentecost is the infinite reminder that God gives us our Breath so we can live and move and have our being in the world. To take away that breath, to suffocate it, is to take a piece of God out of this world.
In Acts 2, Jesus gave the gift of the Holy Spirit to all people in all places. That same Spirit is alive in us, loosed in the world, and it is ever-bringing the light and love and oxygen our souls need to breathe.
For whatever reasons, though, we keep finding ways to suffocate this love and light and oxygen in the world. At times, it seems, our sins are stronger than our love for one another. It is like we don’t want to breathe the same air, which is the opposite of the message of Pentecost and of God.
So, as we reflect on the Pentecostal Power of God’s breath this week in worship, either in our church buildings or in our respective homes around the computer, may this be the week that we become conscious that God’s Spirit has already broken into our world, and it is already giving eternal breath to those who can’t breathe.
And may this be the week it sinks in (especially for those of us who can breathe just fine) that God’s Spirit gives us the breath we need to cry out against consistent, repeated, and unending injustices afflicted on our sisters and brothers of color.
And may this be the week our collective churches finally realize it breathes the same air as those who are continually oppressed and fear for their lives.
Deaths like George Floyd’s affect us all, so may all of our churches’ collective breathing work to build a world in which everyone can, and is allowed, to breathe. And may this week’s celebration remind all Christians that God’s Spirit is already loosed into our world, and it is giving an eternal breath to everyone–even those who we know can’t breathe.
Barrett Owen is the senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Waynesboro, VA.