Guest Post: Jonathan Platter – “The Cadence of God’s Holiness: Knowing the Holy Spirit”

Posted: June 15, 2016 in Theology and Faith
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The Spirit is easily forgotten, or at least easy to miss. We know Jesus talked about the Spirit, breathed the Spirit on the disciples, promised the Spirit, and was even driven into the desert by the Spirit. We know that the early church in Acts received the Spirit and onlookers mistook them for midmorning drunkards! So maybe we’re just a bit afraid of the Spirit. The Spirit is unpredictable, radical, and possibly uncomfortable.

The Spirit is radical and unpredictable, true. But the Spirit is one personal identity in God, and as God is deeply interwoven into the the fabric of our personal and social lives. To come to know this divine person, we must come to recognize the actions that reveal the identity of the Spirit.

The Spirit who fluttered, hovered, hummed over the waters

In the beginning, the universe was like a formless, undeveloped infant. Genesis 1:2 tells us it was “formless and void.” But this was no abandoned child. The Bible tells us that God did not leave this fledgling universe, but was so close that the very breath of God was moving across the face of waters (NRSV). It is telling that the word here for breath (Hebrew: rûach) is the word used also for the Spirit of God.

God is breathing out his Spirit onto the new-born creation. If we imagine the faces of a parent and child as so close that the parents breath moves across them, we get a picture of loving intimacy. Let the details of this scene sink in: we often lean in close to a child’s face so that we can speak or sing to them. And when we sing to a child, face to face, chances are that it will be a breathy event; the breath of the parent will move across the face of the child.

That this moving breath is connected to God’s speaking or singing is confirmed when verses later God creates by saying things: Let there be light (Genesis 1:3). And then, the Gospel of John tells us that Jesus is the very word God was speaking in creating (John 1:1-5). Here is the doctrine of the Trinity at the moment of creation! The Father comes face to face with the creation and speaks the Word of Jesus in the breath of the Spirit: Let there be light.

The Spirit, though, is not passive, impersonal breath like our breath is. Rather, as the Hebrew in Genesis 1 suggests, the Spirit is active and personal, like a bird fluttering over their young. As the text says, the Spirit (or breath, wind) fluttered (rāchaph) over the face waters. This is like a rhythmic cadence, the gentle vibrations of a singing voice. The Spirit is God’s song to creation, eliciting a responsive “coo” and song in response.

The Spirit who raised Christ from the dead…

When we recognize the Spirit’s role in creating, it’s no surprise to learn that this same Spirit is the Spirit of the new creation. Multiple biblical passages converge to illuminate the action of the Spirit. When Ezekiel 37 envisions the renewal of Israel — the dry bones coming to life — it is the the Spirit of God that the bones are raised. And  1 Peter 3:18 says that Christ was killed in the flesh and made alive in the Spirit.

In Matthew’s telling of Jesus’ death, Jesus breathes out his Spirit after a loud cry (Matthew 27:50). Immediately after breathing out the Spirit — and thereby dying — many holy people were raised from their graves (verses 51-53). This is a foretaste of the general resurrection, when the Spirit of God will raise all creation to new life in Christ.

So, “new creation” in the resurrection is the same voice with which God sang the universe into being at the beginning of all things — the cadence of the Spirit of God. Through Christ, the universe is being remade. Here is where some of the Spirit’s unsettling and unpredictable character comes in. The remaking of all creation means that temple curtains are torn, the earth shakes, rocks are split, and tombs broken open (Matthew 27:51-52). The rhythm of creation has lost its tempo, and when the Spirit’s cadence irrupts it initially looks a bit chaotic.

The Spirit who descends on the Church…

As Christ promised (Acts 1:8), the early church received the Spirit. The disciples are gathered together and suddenly the rush of a violent wind fills “the entire house where they were sitting” (Acts 2:2). The wind, the breath, of creation and new creation rushes upon the fledgling church. God has a new word to speak to these creatures. So God draws near, like in Genesis, face to face to speak to them and they feel the rush and dynamic of the divine Spirit overwhelm them.

When seen in the broader context of how the Spirit works, the effects are clear: the Spirit elicits proclamation. This violent Spirit — or the holy cadence that has to disrupt our broken rhythms — accompanies God’s creative song, drawing creatures to respond in kind. The Church receives this very Spirit, the breath of new creation, and — of course! — they speak the gospel in faithful response.

In the Spirit the Church has a share in the very life of resurrection, the animating force that brought Jesus up from the dead is the same Spirit that breathes life into God’s people. We are a resurrection people, enable to faithfully perform God’s new life as witnesses to the world.

The Holy Spirit of God: Directing Us Through Christ to the Father

The Holy Spirit, then, is the dynamic, personal, breathy cadence of God’s voice. The Spirit accompanies the Word, Jesus Christ, and unites us to this man’s body (1 Corinthians 12:13). And this is the Word of the Father, the speech by which God creates and is renewing all creation.

Because the Spirit is the very breath by which God speaks, as Father, Son, and Spirit, when we receive this breath, we are able to join in speech to God. In the Spirit, we are stirred to sing, improvise, and contemplate in prayer to the Father through Christ. Through this Spirit’s new life, we join the conversation God has in the Trinity to be caught up in a new rhythm — the cadence of God’s holiness — and falling into step with this Spirit are made into God’s holy people, witnesses to the life God offers for the healing of all creation.

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Comments
  1. […] vision that we receive of the End of all creation, then, is of all things being drawn up in the dynamic wind of the Spirit to share as witnesses and celebrants of the union of Father and Son. We are drawn into the final […]

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