By Rev. Heather Blais, Rector
Earlier this week I was hiking the blue, ridge trail up to Sachem Head in Highland Park. That particular day it was so incredibly windy, that when I would breathe in, it felt as though I were receiving three times as much air as I could ever breathe in on my own. When I finally reached the platform at the top, the wind blew so fiercely, that I could imagine being blown back onto the rock if I didn’t pay attention.
My hike that day was not just a walk in the woods, it was also a journey with the Holy Spirit. Each breath in was a reminder that, “The Holy Spirit is the way God dwells in us, works on us, even though we are down here on Earth and God the Father and the Son are up there in heaven” (Winner 232). The wind’s sheer force and strength was a reminder that the Holy Spirit is what allows us to stay awake with God by, “...silencing all the voices in our head that keep us from hearing God” (Winner 233).
Some days it’s difficult to tune out the constant buzz of activity happening both internally and externally. Some days we can barely catch our breathe. Then there are days like this; where we feel the breathe of God dwelling deeply within us, helping us to be more alert and awake to everything God is doing. Sometimes the Holy Spirit is a quiet whisper, and sometimes it is a rush of violent wind. I wonder, how have you experienced the Holy Spirit?
Since the early Church, we have celebrated Pentecost as the anniversary of God giving the Holy Spirit to the Church. But Pentecost has a history that goes further back into our heritage. In fact, it goes all the way back to the Israelites as they wandered through the desert towards the Promised Land with Moses. Pentecost was another name for Shavuot, or the Festival of Weeks, the Jewish holiday that comes fifty days after Passover. Shavuot during the time of the Temple was an agricultural festival that commemorated the harvesting of grain and God’s provision for his people. Jewish people would travel to the Temple and offer loaves of bread to God in thanksgiving.
Over time, Shavuot became the day that commemorates the anniversary of God giving the Torah to the entire Israelite nation assembled at Mount Sinai with Moses. During Shavuot, there is a custom of staying up all night learning the Torah, as a penance for the Jew’s sleepiness on the morning that God was to reveal himself at Sinai. The Jews overslept, and Moses had to roam the camps and rouse them awake. To this day, Shavuot serves as a reminder of God’s gift in the Torah, and of the importance of staying awake with God. How often do we promise to stay awake with God, and yet instead we fall asleep?
Take Philip in today’s Gospel lesson. In the middle of Jesus’ final teaching, on the eve of his death, Philip asks: “Lord, show us the Father and we will be satisfied” (John 14:8). The internal buzz within Philip kept him from realizing that he had already come to see the Father in Jesus himself. Unbeknownst to Philip, even as he walked alongside God incarnate, he had fallen asleep to the reality of God’s presence beside him. Yet Jesus patiently and lovingly reminds him: "Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
This is no great sin that Philip commits. We all fall asleep to God’s presence in our lives. Lauren Winner in her memoir, Girl Meets God, writes: “My life is like a disciple’s nap in Gethsemane: I have promised, over and over, to be vigilant for the things of God, to be awake to Him, but I seem to spend much of my life sleeping” (Winner 228). Yet that is part of why Jesus asks God to give us the Holy Spirit. To be our advocate and friend; our steady companion, always abiding within us. The Holy Spirit is constantly inviting and encouraging us to stay awake with God.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that God gave the Church the Holy Spirit on Shavuot, the Day of Pentecost. I think it is yet another gift of the Holy Spirit. Where once God gave his people the Torah, now he gives them the Holy Spirit. Where once God’s people overslept, now the Holy Spirit is there to keep God’s people awake. Where once Jesus’ disciples fell asleep as he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, now the disciples have the Holy Spirit to keep them alert to God’s presence in their lives. Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit to teach us and guide us, and to assure us we would never, ever be alone.
This week, I invite you to prayerfully reflect on the ways you have experienced the Holy Spirit and how the Holy Spirit invites you to stay awake with Christ. I’d like to share one of my absolute favorite prayers that comes from Compline, as it is a daily reminder of staying awake: “Guide us waking, O Lord, and guard us sleeping; that awake we may watch with Christ, and asleep we may rest in peace.” Amen.
Winner, Lauren. Girl Meets God. New York: Random House, 2002, pg 228, 232-233.
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