When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? … in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
Acts 2:1-18, 11-13; text for Pentecost, June 9, 2019
Our house backs up to an elementary school playground. The children file out for recess and stand in line until dismissed to play. Immediately, then, they run and shriek. When I am home on a school day, I am amazed at the volume of the sound and the violence of its coming. There was a set of schoolchildren in tidy rows. Now — suddenly — there is a chaotic dispersion, pounding across the pavement, scrambling up the climbing equipment, skirmishing for balls. As I watch, some order emerges — whether the emergence is in their play or my observation, I do not know. There is one game over here, and another over there, and these few children squatted on their haunches at the edge of the pavement are probably poking at the hole in the blacktop that has been expanded over several school years’ worth of recesses. The expenditure of energy and the intensity of focus touch my heart.
I watch the children and wonder. When was the last time I effervesced in such a manner?
A few times in college, my friend and I went onto the green after dark. We ran and laughed and collapsed on the grass and all without benefit of alcohol. Who needs beer, we scoffed, when there is play. There was something intoxicating about abandoning the appearance of sense, making ourselves ridiculous for joy. A delight I feel still when singing aloud as I walk through the city. Tipping back my head and throwing my arms wide as if to embrace the wind on a gusty day. Grinning with excitement, and rising to tip-toes on the Metro platform when a train rumbles past and blows its horn. (I do not entirely forget myself, I admit; I do not wave at the train driver, tempted though I am.)
Why am I thinking about play, about being so intensely present as to risk ridiculousness? As if this text is about intoxication. Drunkenness is the claim is raised by those who don’t understand, who sneer at what they hear as noise. Peter rebuts the charge. Yet Peter’s rebuttal does not entirely dismiss the issue. Peter does not argue that the scoffers have mischaracterized the behavior but asserts that they have misunderstood its source.
This is not new wine imbibed, Peter asserts. This is God’s Spirit ‘poured out’ (Acts 2:14-17). Listen to what is being said and shouted and sung. Hear the order that emerges. This seemingly frantic babble, heard and understood in so many tongues, is all about God. It is praise for the Lord whose ‘word is very near … in your mouth and in your heart’ (Deut 30:14). It is wonder that they have lived into God’s promised days of visions and dreams (Joel 2:28; Acts 2:17). This is not passing gladness. This is rock-founded. This is not new wine. This is joy in the Lord.
Reading Pentecost I wonder. When was the last time I was that aware of joy?
Joy as effervescence, burbling forth forth like a spring, foaming over rocks as it tumbles out and down. Joy welling up as if I am a cup, brimful — I hold a moment quivering still, amazed at its presence, living water in me, joy’s meniscus curved slightly above the edge of my lip — and then I cannot but grin, cannot but wonder, cannot but tell. Did you see? Did you hear? Did you feel?
The Spirit’s spark that Pentecost was not stubborn resolve or impassioned argument or faithful duty. The Spirit’s spark was joy. The people flared bright with it, spoke flames with it. The Spirit lit a fire whose dancing tongues amazed and perplexed and confounded and transformed.
I watch the children. I read the text. I need to be reminded of joy. I need to be re-minded to joy. Wait and watch, sticks and kindling dutifully arranged in expectation of the spark. Realize, then, that the tinder is already aglow. I don’t need to wait for some coming but to see what has already come. Blow gently and increase the flame. Sustain it; be sustained by it. Dip my bucket into the well, trusting to draw it forth brimful and shining. Drink deeply and find myself intoxicated with its urgency. Catch someone else’s eye. Grin and gesture to the very well I drew from, look to see joy spark across.
Make myself ridiculous in the expectation. Make myself ridiculous in the experience.
That’s how it began. That is how it begins again.
Risk joy. Pray for it. Prophesy it. Live it. Tell it.