BREATH, WIND, FIRE – Pentecost, Year A

May 28, 2023

Revised Common Lectionary
Acts 2:1-21 or Numbers 11:24-30
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
1 Corinthians 12:3b-13 or Acts 2:1-21
John 20:19-23 or John 7:37-39

Lectionary for Mass (RC)
Acts 2:1-11
Psalm 104:1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34 (see 30)
1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13
John 20:19-23

Today’s Scriptures are filled with powerful images of the Holy Spirit.

In the reading from Acts, the disciples were huddled in the upper room fifty days after the resurrection of Jesus, and suddenly they heard a “sound like the rush of a violent wind” and saw “tongues, as of fire” (Acts 2:2-3). Filled with the Spirit, they were empowered to speak boldly in many languages “as the Spirit gave them ability” (Acts 2:4). Now that’s power!

The Gospel reading presents the Spirit as a gift of the risen Christ who appears among the disciples on the day of resurrection. He breathes on them, saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (Jn 20:22). The Spirit is his gift to them as he hands over the mission that he has begun: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (Jn 20:21).

Today’s Psalm likewise speaks of breath as a key to God’s creative power in giving life: “When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground” (Ps 104:29-30). We know that without breath, our lives will be snuffed out in a matter of seconds.

Taken together, today’s Scriptures use the language of breath, wind, and fire to describe the powerful impact of the Holy Spirit to create, give life, impart peace, set free those who are bound, bring about unity, and bestow gifts on the community of believers. The Spirit is like a violent wind that blows, not unlike a hurricane or tornado; like a raging fire that consumes and purifies; like breath that gives and sustains life. Neither tame nor controlled by humans, the Spirit creates and makes new.

Even the community of believers comes into being through the power of the Spirit. Today’s reading from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians reminds us that we can’t even say “Jesus is Lord” (1 Cor 12:3b) without the Spirit. The Spirit of God gathers us together and bestows the gifts that enable the church’s life and mission.

“There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit” (1 Cor 12:4). Paul wrote this message to a Corinthian community that was experiencing deep and harmful divisions, including arguments over whose gifts were the most important. He reminds them that gifts of the Spirit are intended “for the common good” (1 Cor 12:7). They are given not for our own sake but for the good of the community and its mission. They are not accomplishments that we achieve but gifts that we receive. Rather than personal possessions, they are manifestations of the Spirit.

The breath, wind, and fire of the Holy Spirit continue to animate the life of our communities today. Each of us has received a gift that is intended to build up the church and further its mission. Are we paying attention to the Spirit’s wind blowing us into action? Are we putting our gifts at the service of the community? Do we value the gifts of others or do we sometimes seek to extinguish the Spirit acting through them?

May the Spirit set us on fire, blow away the cobwebs, and breathe life into the hearts of those who follow the risen Christ and embrace his mission.

A Hymn for Today: “Wind Who Makes All Winds”

Thomas H. Troeger, FHS, was both a Presbyterian minister and an Episcopal priest. A musician, poet, preacher, and teacher, he spent much of his career teaching homiletics. He was a prolific hymn writer who sought to cast the Gospel in new language that would reflect a modern worldview and capture the imagination of people today. In this hymn for Pentecost, he does precisely that as he incorporates the images of wind, fire, and breath. Listen here to Troeger’s text set to a tune composed for it by frequent collaborator Carol Doran.

Wind who makes all winds that blow—
gusts that bend the saplings low,
gales that heave the sea in waves,
stirrings in the mind’s deep caves—
aim your breath with steady pow-r
on your church, this day, this hour.
Raise, renew the life we’ve lost,
Spirit God of Pentecost.

Fire who fuels all fires that burn—
suns around which planets turn,
beacons marking reefs and shoals,
shining truth to guide our souls—
come to us as once you came;
burst in tongues of sacred flame!
Light and Power, Might and Strength,
fill your church, its breadth and length.

Holy Spirit, Wind and Flame,
move within our mortal frame.
Make our hearts an altar pyre.
Kindle them with your own fire.
Breath and blow upon that blaze
till our lives, our deed, and ways
speak that tongue which ev’ry land
by your grace shall understand.

Text: Thomas H. Troeger, 1945-2022. © Oxford University Press, Inc. Used by permission under OneLicense #A-729857.

Image Credit: Happy Pentecost!, Church of the Holy Spirit, Singapore

“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.

To receive these weekly reflections by email, please send a message to and type “Lectionary” in the subject line.