When I think about Pentecost, the story that I know by heart is from the Acts of the Apostles – where the disciples, gathered together, hear a sound like rushing wind, and tongues of fire symbolise the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit’s presence is powerful and forceful. It brings about immediate and profound change.
In contrast, the Gospel we hear as we celebrate the feast of Pentecost this year doesn’t draw on this imagery of wind or fire… we hear about the Spirit as being like “rivers of living water”.
The context of this Gospel according to John is that Jesus is in Jerusalem to celebrate the Festival of Booths or Tabernacles. On the last day of the Festival, there is a ritual involving holy water, poured ceremoniously on and around the temple. To the faithful present for this, Jesus cries out “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and let the one who believes in me drink.” Michael Fallon shares that Jesus’ meaning is that “if we wish to find God’s presence amongst us, we must now look to the new temple, Jesus himself”.
Jesus’ invitation requires self-reflection and discernment. Am I thirsty for more? Am I yearning for spiritual fulfilment? And if I am, do I accept this invitation to be sustained and nourished by faith? By Christ? As a believer, how do I allow the Spirit to flow into me – and in turn, how do I ensure I share the rivers of living water with others?
For me, this sense of the Spirit as water is restorative – soothing a heart that feels dried out by war, violence and by the continuing challenges of COVID. More than wind and fire, there is a calmness from the water I am craving – a gentle, tactile presence – reassuring me that I am surrounded and held.
Perhaps too, the Spirit as living water invites us to surrender and trust. One can’t control how water moves. Sometimes the waters will be turbulent and unpredictable as one can’t plan how the river of life is going to flow. The Spirit is at work in our lives in ways we are yet to discover. May the tide lead us on to where our gifts from the Spirit are best used to proclaim the Good News.