Spirit. Breath. Wind. Fire. Historians and anthropologists tell the story of our relationship with fire—a significant marker in the evolution of the human species. For tens of thousands of years, humans have gathered around fire for light, warmth, protection, community and food. There is something about our attraction to yellow, red, orange and blue tongues of flame. Maybe you’ve had those moments, too, sitting in front of a fireplace or campfire, entranced by the sights and sounds of fire dancing in the shadows. You might remember several years ago when a Norwegian television channel aired eight uninterrupted hours of logs burning in a fireplace.
Given our fascination with fire, it comes as no surprise that people of faith have associated fire with the divine for millennia. There are passages and stories throughout the bible that liken God to fire. The Spirit of God appeared on Sinai in flames of fire—just like they did today on that first Pentecost, on the foreheads of those gathered. Moses encountered God in fire, a burning bush. Through fire the Israelites presented sacrificial offerings to God. God led the people through the wilderness with a pillar of fire. Seraphim—spirits that we call to mind in the words around holy communion—are spirits of fire, extensions of God’s presence. Think fire, think God.
Spirit. Breath. Wind. Fire. These are cosmic elements that bring to mind the forces of creation. In the beginning, we read in Genesis, God’s Spirit moved over the waters as the first act of creation, the creative Spirit out of which God takes breath and speaks the world into being again and again. In the words of the psalmist, it’s the Spirit that creates and renews the face of the earth. We hear of this Spirit’s presence in a world groaning in labor pains, groaning that yields new life and a new creation. The Spirit of fire, although a force of destruction is also a creative force; fire renews, refines, re-generates, and re-creates as it did when it appeared on that first Pentecost.
It’s a chaotic scene in the book of Acts. As the group of early Christians assembles for a thanksgiving-type festival, the unexpected takes place. Spirit, breath, wind and fire fill the place where they are gathered. And in its wake, the sound of different languages, native tongues, speaking about God’s deeds of power. Barriers of understanding due to differences in culture, ethnicity, and nationality disappear. God’s vigorous appearance celebrates diversity and in the same moment unites. The Holy Spirit is poured out in their midst and a new community is created; a diverse community that comes together as one, proclaiming God’s dynamic presence in the world.
That day of Pentecost comes this day as we gather together. Here, in this place, spirit, breath, wind and fire fill the spaces between these walls and inside our bodies. Heaven comes to earth here. In this place, the risen Christ appears. Fed and forgiven, washed and claimed as God’s children, we are renewed and re-formed. The Holy Spirit is poured out in our midst, we are transformed, and the creation of a new community takes place—a community that becomes one body out of many, proclaiming God’s dynamic presence in the world. This is the Day of Pentecost happening right now, in and among us as the promised Holy Spirit comes.
Spirit. Breath. Wind. Fire. As Jesus prepares to leave his disciples, be put on trial and killed, he promises them something that will carry them through the days of darkness and death that lie ahead. A Spirit. An advocate whom he sends from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who will testify on his behalf. A spirit that, like fire, provides comfort and protection; a light shining in the darkness.
This Spirit, this advocate Jesus promises to send us, too. Because we know the places of death and darkness in our lives, don’t we? The news that we don’t want to hear, the diagnosis that hangs in the air. The relationships that just can’t be salvaged. The days when we feel burdened and worn out by the weight of too many responsibilities. The discrimination and prejudice that insidiously penetrates our communities. The bickering and blame game that dominates our nation’s politics. The violence that is self-perpetuating, violence that has made us numb, and dare I say indifferent?
Into these places of darkness and death, the Spirit’s wind blows; the Spirit’s fire refines, bringing warmth and light. Like that community in Acts still digesting the death of their Messiah, the Spirit breathes new life into us, proclaiming God’s healing and reconciliation. Into places of darkness and death, the Spirit intercedes for us when we no longer have words or when prayer seems a useless exercise. God brings to birth the living Spirit of the risen Christ in our bodies, in our sanctuaries, in our communities, in our world.
O God, you are breath: send your Spirit on this meal…O God you are Fire, transform us with hope. These are words written in our hymnal, words that are spoken as we prepare to take in the spirit of the risen Christ into our bodies, in bread and wine. O God you are fire, transform us with hope.
Spirit. Breath. Wind. Fire. Come, Holy Spirit, and renew the face of the earth. Come, holy breath, and breathe us back to life. Come, holy wind, and blow your creative Spirit into our community. Come, holy fire, and refine us; re-generate us, re-new us.
 Evangelical Lutheran Worship (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2006).