With Pentecost, We’ve Got More Jesus

Jason Micheli —  May 15, 2018 — 4 Comments

Some church folk wonder why I’m jaded and cynical. 

I’ve been on record as such for so long now I can’t even blame it on our orange-hued (he has no clothes) chief in the oval. Coincidentally though, my disposition, such as it is, has everything to do with my first Pentecost as a would-be man of the cloth. I was a student-pastor at a once-shuttered church outside Princeton that had recently re-opened under the “leadership” of a retired pastor who lived several gallons of gas away, which left me kinda sorta but not really in charge most of the time. 

It was, more or less, a large AA group that met on Sunday mornings, chasing their coffee and confessions with hymns and a homily, topping it all off not with the Apostles’ Creed but with some hands-clasped, communally composed and communally recited tripe about the derivative lessons of the butterfly. 

I’m not even joking. 

And I wish I was exaggerating.

Perhaps the only part of the bible they interpreted literally, if unwittingly, was Paul’s line about the foolishness of Christ crucified. For Pentecost, they celebrated “the birthday of the Church” with sheet cake and punch. And what kind of birthday party would it be without a bozo in crazy unnatural hair and garish make-up? That’s right, the folks who dressed up as clowns for clown communion (that was a thing too…another post for another day) got dolled up in their fools’ costumes to serve us all cake with candles- but not before awkward-shaming us all into a monotoned rendition of ‘Happy Birthday.’ Not even Marilyn Monroe’s cover could’ve rescued that cringe-worthy moment. 

Their’s was a felony commission of a crime many churches foist every year, positing Pentecost as the birthday of the Church. Nonsense. As Karl Barth rightly observed, the birth of the Church isn’t Pentecost but Jesus dying on a cross beside two guilty-as-hell criminals accompanied by his promise (to BOTH of them) “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” 

The Church Birthday cliche is as insufficient for Pentecost as is the sentimentalized portrait of the Church in Holy-Spirit-Recovery in Acts 2.43-47. Sure, the Holy Spirit begat a Church where believers held everything in common and broke bread with “glad and generous hearts” but, according to the New Testament’s own witness, that idealized Church lasted about a day and a half. In no time, Ananias and Sapphira were lying about their income. Converts in Galatia were sponsoring billboard ads for circumcision, and Christians in Corinth were sleeping with their mothers-in-law and refusing to seat the poor at the Lord’s Table. 

For all those wish with bated breath to “get back to the ancient Church,” there’s good news- we’re already there, and we always have been there. 

And we always have been them.

As problematic as are the cliched and sentimentalized accounts of Pentecost, worse are those which construe Pentecost as the arrival of a heretofore absent Holy Spirit. Never mind that the Holy Spirit animates Ezekiel’s prophecy, alights upon Mary’s womb, or thrusts Jesus in to the wilderness, according to the Gospels (especially Luke and John) Pentecost is NOT the arrival of the Holy Spirit after the departure of the Son. 

Pentecost isn’t about arrival at all.

Pentecost is about return.

Pentecost is the return of the Son in the form of the Spirit. 

Too many Christians, in other words, conceive of the Holy Spirit as differentiated from the person of the crucified and risen Jesus, but this is not how Jesus speaks of the Spirit.

The Spirit’s action, according to Jesus, is wholly related to the activity of Jesus. The Spirit’s purpose, Jesus testifies in John’s Gospel, is to glorify Christ, convicting the world of how it is wrong (sin) in light of his perfect righteousness and finished work. As St. Paul tells the Corinthians, the Holy Spirit is for our understanding the gifts bestowed on us in Christ by God and to the Galatians he identifies the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of the Crucified Christ. 

Pentecost isn’t about arrival so much as return. 

Pentecost is the return of the Son in the form of the Spirit.

This is why Jesus frames his departure from the disciples not as necessary but as good news- the best news, Jesus says in John 16.7: 

“However, I am telling you the sober truth: the best thing that could ever happen to you is for me to go away. Because if I do not go away, the Paraclete will not come to you. But if I do go away, I will send him to you.” 

Jesus’ ascension to the Father, therefore, is a different sort of departure; whereas, our departures from one another signal that there will be less of us present to the other in the future, Jesus’ departure signals a surprising MORE.

The odd good news of Pentecost is that, with the return of the Son in the form of the Spirit, Jesus is more present and available to us now than he was to the disciples before Easter or Ascension. Pentecost, Jesus himself teaches the disciples, is an increase- an improvement- upon the presence of Jesus. He is available now always and everywhere to each of us. 

With Pentecost, we’ve got more Jesus.

Son in the form of the Spirit > Son incarnate 

Just as whoever sees the earthly Jesus has seen the Father, whoever listens to the Spirit hears Jesus. What Jesus is to the Father, the Paraclete is to Jesus. 

Perhaps Pentecost is but another example of our sin-sick propensity to see scarcity rather than abundance, to see not the abundance of the Son we have in the form of the Spirit. 

“The best thing that could ever happen to you is for me to go away.”

Jason Micheli

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4 responses to With Pentecost, We’ve Got More Jesus

  1. Yikes, I’m sorry but clown communion is just too terrifying to contemplate. Thank goodness for us you didn’t just throw in the towel on ministry right then and there.

  2. I like it: We are the ancient Church, always have and will be, and even though Jesus always has been and will be with through the Holy Spirit, every day he is even more and more with us. What’s not to like?

  3. Love this! The “Three In One”–You bring it all into focus. Thank you, Jason!

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