During the season of Easter we celebrate our baptism each week as the Asperges, or sprinkling rite, is offered over those gathered. In my own church the choir sings the Vidi aquam which takes its text from the prophet Ezekiel, I saw water flowing out of the Temple, from its right side, Alleluia: And all who came to this water were saved, And they shall say: Alleluia, Alleluia. (Ezekiel 47:1) This rite of water during Eastertide reminds us of our rebirth with a resurrected Christ and calls us again to our vows of faith and action.
But there is a second baptism. As John tells us in Luke, “I baptize you with water; but … He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Luke 3:16 NRSV) This brings us to the season of Pentecost. A baptism of water sounds inviting, refreshing, cleansing, but a baptism with fire sounds ominous, dangerous, even threatening. I think many of us would more easily be drawn to water over fire, but Jesus essentially teaches us that while baptism with water is important to “get you going in the right direction” the more important baptism is the one with fire and Spirit, which will sustain you.
Many Christians have a lukewarm relationship with the Holy Spirit. We formally believe, but there isn’t much fire in it– if we’re honest. We go through the motions, but there isn’t much conviction. We just sort of… believe. Most of us received the baptism of water when we were very young and it wasn’t even a prerequisite that we really understood. We formally “received” this grace from God as those who cared for us accepted on our behalf. The intention being, that we would continue to grow into the vows which were spoken for us– that we were sealed with Christ among a community of believers. What a beautiful and encouraging act of faith.
But eventually we have to experience a different kind of transformation, or we hope to anyway. To receive the gift of the Spirit is to step that much closer to the God already at work in us. Receiving the Holy Spirit always transforms us. We tend to be more loving, more excited, more servant-oriented and more forgiving– forgiving of our neighbors, of ourselves, and even of life itself.
The wonderful news is that we already have the Holy Spirit. The gift has already been given– even though much of the liturgy of Pentecost Sunday echos the refrain, “Come, Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit has already come. As Richard Rohr perfectly articulates, “you are all temples of the Holy Spirit, equally, objectively, and forever. The only difference is the degree that you know it, you draw upon it, and you consciously believe it.”
Remember that all of the images of the Holy Spirit are flowing images, flowing water, descending doves, fire, wind. Everything is dynamic. To draw upon the Holy Spirit is to experience this same kind of dynamism within our own lives. We would all do well, to “fan into flame” the gift that you already have.
So let us not shy away from this Holy Spirit. Let us not be cynical at the prospect of a “spirit-filled” community. Instead, let us cry out with joy as we embrace the Spirit already given, and go out into the world proclaiming the goodness of God, alive in us, that we may invite others to know this God, this Jesus, this Holy Spirit.