“Jesus breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (John 20:22).
The story of the sending of the Holy Spirit into the followers of Jesus recapitulates the story of Creation. In the beginning, the Spirit — ruah – breath, or life, of God hovers over the primordial waters. Creation occurs when the face of God is reflected in the shapeless potential of pre-being, and the voice of God says “Let there be light.” The divine light enters the void, giving structure and purpose to the material universe now existing in time, wholly initiated and sustained by the divine Will.
Creation unfolded from that original moment according to its inbuilt laws, organizing itself, separating light from darkness, sky from earth, land from sea, exploding with life forms, plant and animal, genus and species, lower to higher consciousness, until human beings emerged, able to respond to the Creator and to share in the work of shaping the world. Only one thing was lacking -- free will for humans so that friendship with God and not just automatic obedience could be possible. With the gift of freedom also entered the rebellion of sin into the world, distorting the divine image in us and delaying the divine purpose by sowing chaos and conflict into human affairs and into the order of creation.
It was into this warp that Jesus came as the revelation of what a full human being was meant to be. Jesus was in perfect union with the Creator, his nature suffused with divine identity, like us in all things except sin. His life and death laid down the template for the universal restoration of humanity and the recalibration and reharmonization of creation with God’s original plan.
Jesus’ self-sacrifice on the cross, the fulfillment of Passover, opened again the path to God obscured by sin. So it is for us, that by dying to self, we rise to new life in God with Jesus, whose resurrection reveals a new heaven and a new earth for everyone who follows the new Adam, the Christ, into the new creation.
Pentecost, celebrated 50 days after Passover, completes this sign with the outpouring of the Ruah of God over the old creation, restoring it to its divine destiny -- life with God forever. This promise was foreshadowed at Jesus' baptism as he came up out of the water and a dove hovered over him, like the dove that signaled new life for Noah after the flood.
Pentecost celebrates the birth of the church, the new Ark holding the restored creation. The symbols of the Spirit as wind and fire shake the world to its foundations. Behold, God is doing something new, and we, by virtue of our baptism, are part of the plan. We emerge from the waters of fear, despair and cynicism to take up the eternal promise God has revealed to us in Christ. This is the joy of the Gospel.