Pentecost: One Searing Word

Pentecost © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Book of Acts, Day of Pentecost (June 12): Acts 2.1-21

Nearly thirteen weeks have passed since the day we stood on the threshold of Lent, our foreheads streaked with ashes. We have traveled through a wilderness season of reflection and preparation as we journeyed toward the cross. We have entered into a season of resurrection in these weeks since the wonders of Easter Day. We have watched Jesus take his leave, blessing those whom he has called to continue his work and become his body in this world.

Now, as the Day of Pentecost approaches, we find ourselves at the other end of the arc that began on the weeks-ago Ash Wednesday. “Know that you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” many of us heard on that day. A crucial reminder, to be sure: to know what we are made of, where we are from, to where we shall return. Yet all these weeks later, at the end of wilderness and death and resurrection, the day of Pentecost comes to show us that there is still more to know, and a purpose for knowing that lies beyond our individual lives.

Throughout this Easter season, the gospel readings have placed a persistent emphasis on knowing. To those who heard the Ash Wednesday admonition to know that you are dust, Jesus’ intentionality in telling his followers what he needs them to know comes as a striking complement to the words that ushered us into Lent. Although knowing our earthy origins is crucial in our life with Christ, the past weeks have proven there are other things he needs for us to know as well about who he is, what he has done, and what he is calling us to do.

Yet simply knowing, of course, is not enough. On the day of Pentecost, as the Spirit descends upon the gathered assembly, we see with dramatic clarity how the knowing that Christ gives us is not for ourselves alone: it is for the life of the community and the life of the world. As on Pentecost, when those who spoke in the Spirit did not recognize what they were saying but could be understood by others in the crowd, our knowing and understanding are always incomplete without the presence of community.

The incompleteness of our knowing comes as its own reminder of what dusty disciples we are. Made of common earth, fashioned of ordinary matter, we are called to a humus-born humility that cautions us against acting like we have all the answers and know all of God’s designs for creation. Yet the story of Pentecost bids us to remember what the Spirit can do with dust. Pentecost reminds us that the Spirit draws us together and gives us to one another so that we may hear and see and know with greater clarity. This day challenges us to open ourselves beyond the limits of our individual lives to the Spirit who sets us ablaze for the healing of the world.

In this Pentecost week, are you seeking the presence of others who will deepen your understanding? Where do you go to hear and see what you cannot hear and see on your own? When knowledge and wisdom come to you, how do you share them beyond yourself to help others flourish? Where are you turning your ears, your eyes, your heart, your mind to perceive the presence of the Spirit and the path to which it is drawing you?

Pentecost Blessing

On the day
when you are wearing
your certainty
like a cloak
and your sureness
goes before you
like a shield
or like a sword,

may the sound
of God’s name
spill from your lips
as you have never
heard it before.

May your knowing
be undone.
May mystery
confound your

May the Divine
rain down
in strange syllables
yet with
an ancient familiarity,
a knowing borne
in the blood,
the ear,
the tongue,
bringing the clarity
that comes
not in stone
or in steel
but in fire,
in flame.

May there come
one searing word:
enough to bare you
to the bone,
enough to set
your heart ablaze,
enough to make you
whole again.

P.S. For a previous Pentecost reflection, click the image or title below:

Pentecost: Fire and Breath

[To use the “Pentecost” image, please visit this page at Your use of helps make the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook possible. Thank you!]

One Response to “Pentecost: One Searing Word”

  1. David Stauffer Says:

    Thanks Jan for these Pentecost reflections. I’ve read through them all and each was a blessing. Today’s particularly hit home with me. And thank you for the meaningful artwork as well.

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