Sunday was the third of the three great festivals of the church. And if you were on church on Sunday, you would have seen, heard, and perhaps felt many festive things. We had new, flame-colored paraments and a streamer with orange and red crepe paper flew above our heads during the opening notes of the prelude. We had fans blowing on the flame-colored paraments, and perhaps some of us could even feel the wind of the Spirit. We had a wonderful processional with the cross and the candles. We had many candles lit, and the Paschal (Easter) candle for the last time.
The bells played at the beginning of the worship service. Afterwards the people clapped. Our contemporary choir, The Spirit Singers, sang during the offering, a jazzy, bluesy song. The children received crayons as a reminder that they are creative people, that they have received the creative spirit of God, and that when they are create something, that is an act of the Spirit.
Before the church service, we had put out two large bins of small candles, the ones we used on Christmas eve, and also at the Easter Vigil. We instructed the people to give each person a candle when they entered. One of the ushers asked, "What should I say about the candles? People are asking about them…" I answered, "Just say it has something to do with the sermon, and it's a surprise."
The other pastor said something similar in the announcements.
Then, at the sermon, I took a small candle in my hand while I spoke. I began by pointing out the Easter candle, the Paschal candle, which stands in the middle of our sanctuary, right behind the baptismal font. We have been lighting every Sunday since Easter, but after Pentecost, we will not light it again for a long time, not unless there is a baptism. There is something sad about this to me, at least sometimes. I love the light and the dancing fire. Why don't we just keep lighting that candle every week? If it has to do with Jesus' resurrection, and Jesus is still risen, why not keep lighting it?
We had read the story from Numbers about Moses and the 70 elders who got a share of Moses' spirit, so I did a little backstory on that. When I got to the part about the elders prophesying, just once, I lit my own candle from the Paschal candle. When I got to the part about the Spirit spilling over onto Eldad and Medad, I lit two other candles in the congregation.
Then I spoke a bit about what it means to be prophets, how God wants all of us to be prophets, but do we think of ourselves that way? Child of God, yes (and I lit a candle). Image of God? I hope so. (and I lit a candle.) But we don't think of ourselves as prophets.
But God wishes all of God's people would be prophets, which has something to do with carrying this candle, something to do with bearing the Spirit. As I imagined the role of the prophet in bringing light into darkness, life into death, hope into despair, I continued to light the candles of people in the congregation.
I spent some time with the Pentecost story, the disciples gathered, the people from all the earth gathered, the Spirit spilling out. Suddenly it was not just one person testifying, but they were all testifying, not just one person with the Spirit, but all of the sharing the Spirit. Not just one person carrying the light, but they all held the light.
That's what Pentecost was. The dreams of God becoming the dreams of the disciples. The visions of God becoming the visions of the disciples.
So after Pentecost, the light of the large candle is extinguished. You know why? Here's why: because from now on, the light is in us. The spirit is in us.
The light is in you.
That's what I said, more or less. Afterwards we sang "This little light of mine" and extinguished our candles, although I hope some lights still shine.
After church, one woman whispered to me that while I was lighting candles, people were just spontaneously sharing their light with one another, even though I had never said they could do that. She thought that was a good sign. I also saw a mom and dad, carrying small lighted candles out of the sanctuary. When I wondered, they said they were taking them to their children, who had been in Sunday School.
As I consider the day, our Pentecost at church, I realize there were a couple of things I forgot to say, things I wish I had said. There were few lines that I left out, things I only thought of afterwards. I wish I had said something about the Paschal candle and the visible presence of Jesus, his resurrection appearances, how he stopped appearing to his disciples, and how now WE are the resurrection appearances of Jesus.
I also consider how I want to remember the day, not just my part in in, but the whole thing. But how hard it is to hold on to it, like trying Mary trying to hold onto Jesus after his resurrection. I want to preserve the memory of something good (I think) that happened -- the colors on the cloth, the wind, the tiny lights, the looks on people's faces when they held the light. Like the wind of the Spirit itself, experience is powerful but ephemeral.
The experience of Pentecost is powerful but ephemeral. But the important thing to know, when your memory of the day is faded, when you can't feel the wind any more, or see the tongue of flame, the important thing to know is this:
The light is in you now. It doesn't belong to you. But it is in you. All of you.