“You send forth your Spirit, and they are created; * and so you renew the face of the earth” (Ps. 104:31).
Our psalm this morning gives us another account of the creation of the world: in keeping with the story found in Genesis, but more poetic in its form. Our snippet gives us sea creatures “both small and great” (Ps. 104:26), along with the leviathan, the great sea monster; but if you look at the rest of Psalm 104, you’ll see that “the beasts of the forest” (Ps. 104:21) are also included. Mountain goats and rock badgers get a shout out, not to mention storks and lions. The psalm starts with the creation of the world, and extends to the making of humanity, but it does it in a non-linear way, very different from the first chapter of Genesis. In this psalm, there is a poetic sense of God’s delight in creation, and his wisdom in creating it.
In both the story of creation, and in our psalm this morning, creation begins with a wind from God moving over the waters, stirring things up and bringing forth life. As we said in the psalm, “You send forth your Spirit, and they are created; * and so you renew the face of the earth” (Ps. 104:31). Our translation gives us “Spirit,” but in truth it is the same word as “wind” or “breath,” the same force that moved “over the face of the waters” (Gen. 1:2) in Genesis. From this action, this breath of God, came the creation of all things, including humankind. As it says in the second chapter of Genesis, “Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being” (Gen. 2:7).
We say in the Nicene Creed that we believe in the Holy Spirit, “the Lord, the giver of life,” which is a summary way of saying what we’ve said in our psalm today. All life comes through the action of God, who breathes on the waters, and breathes into us the breath of life. The Holy Spirit is sent forth by God to make all things, and to be within them as the source of their life. When a baby is born the family waits expectantly for the cry that will prove that the lungs are working, and that the breath of life is present. It is the same with the Spirit of God, creating and animating the world. “You send forth your Spirit, and they are created; * and so you renew the face of the earth” (Ps. 104:31).
There’s more to the story, however; and that “more” includes challenges to the life-giving power of God. There are darker chapters in the story of the human race. Once again, Genesis tells the story of disobedience and murder, hatred and pride. It’s an old, old story, that did not begin yesterday. The story of human sin weighs on us heavily, with each new mass shooting and with each new day of war. The oppressive weight of each atrocity can seem to drive the breath itself out of us.
In the face of all this, Christian faith posits the reality of renewal: the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit that not only made all things, but brings them to life again. The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is God’s answer to the power of sin and death. Jesus’ death judges the death-dealing power that is at work in the world, and makes it powerless; his resurrection puts all life on a new basis and begins a new age. The renewal of all things is at hand. God raised Jesus Christ from the dead, giving new hope to the world. Death has been swallowed up in victory, as St. Paul says in First Corinthians (1 Cor, 15:54).
Pentecost unleashes the renewing power of the Holy Spirit; a power rooted in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The story in Acts touches base, once again, with the story of creation. “And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting” (Acts 2:2). Once again, the breath of God goes forth, like a mighty wind that stirs things up and brings new life into being. God the Holy Spirit is filling the lungs of the church with cries of new life. Peter raises his voice, no doubt in order to be heard in the din, and preaches the good news of the coming of the new age. It’s a moment of renewal and rebirth, as the Holy Spirit gives voice to the church’s proclamation of new life in Christ.
Today at this Whitsunday festival we commemorate the Pentecost event, and add our own moment of renewal to the history of the church. Today, members of the church will renew their baptismal vows, and receive the laying on of hands of the bishop. Our confirmands will reaffirm their renunciation of evil, their rejection of the death-dealing powers of this world, and will renew their commitment to Jesus Christ. We will pray for them, to increase daily in the power of the Holy Spirit that gives new life, and for the same Spirit to be with them forever. The laying on of hands will connect them to the earliest days of the church, to the upper room in which the disciples were gathered on that first Pentecost. It’s a moment of renewal, a turning over of a new chapter in our lives. God is sending us out today, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to do his work in the world, giving us a new hope and a new voice.