Yesterday, the Epistle Lesson for PENTECOST Sunday (Acts 2:1-11 ), included these words:
Now when the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
What caught my attention were the words “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” The text also says the whole house was filled with the sound of the rushing mighty wind.
It is an interesting word.
We don’t normally conceive of humans being empty like a bottle that you can fill. So what exactly does it mean for a person to be filled by the Holy Spirit? Of course, to be scientifically accurate, a bottle is not empty (as in vacuum), it is filled with air, and we displace the air with the liquid with which we (RE-)fill the bottle.
So did the Holy Spirit fill the otherwise vacuous disciples? Or did the Spirit displace that with which the disciples were already full of?
The text is of course describing a spiritual experience in metaphorical language, so St. Luke (the author of Acts) is trying to approximate the experience described by the apostles. He is after all writing about the event years after it happened, and has to rely on their description of what they experienced in that moment of Pentecost – the inrushing of God’s Spirit into their lives.
The Greek word which St. Paul used for “filled” has a variety of uses literally and metaphorically and among its many cognates: To fill, To make full, To influence, To imbue, To supply, To accomplish, To furnish, To complete, To satisfy, To fulfill
In our prayer, we claim the Holy Spirit fills all things. It is a rich image, which to some extent defies (and maybe deifies!) understanding. We do not usually think of all things as being empty – but rather things contain mass, and yet the Holy Spirit fills them.
Is it that apart from God all things are still lacking something? Only with the Holy Spirit filling something or someone does that thing or person attain its fullness of being – all that God intended for it, him, or her. Only when we and the Church and world are full of the Holy Spirit do we experience the created world as God intended it to be and as He experiences it Himself.
The Holy Spirit is neither filling a vacuous being, nor displacing what is already in each of us. The Holy Spirit fills us – brings us to fullness, completes us, recreates us so that we are the humans in whom God breathed His Spirit in the beginning. “By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth” (Psalm 33:6). It is the Holy Spirit of God which continues Christ’s saving activity in the world – transfiguring and transforming all things. By abiding in us, filling us with God’s Spirit, we are cleansed of every impurity, for there is no room for evil in the one in whom God’s Spirit dwells.
See also my Pentecost post.