When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. - Acts 2:1 (NRSV)
The beloved Pentecost story starts with the disciples all gathered in one place. Does that give you the shivers, having by now engrained the habit of social distancing?
I don’t know about you, but if I even see people embracing or standing too close together in a (fictional, prerecorded) TV program, I feel the urge to yell at the screen for them to leave room not only for the Holy Spirit, but an additional 6 feet for the Coronavirus.
There are two big Bible stories that indicate the gift of the Holy Spirit to the followers of Jesus, and in both, the people who receive that Spirit are huddled up close together. Can the Spirit only be conferred when we gather together in physical space? Probably not – but it helps.
“Zoom church,” for all its creativity and flexibility and fun, leaves something to be desired. Among the things it can’t transmit: pheromones, including the oxytocin boost of a six-second hug. The poignancy of holding the warm frail flesh of a nonagenarian hand in yours in the receiving line for a minute. The eye-twinkle split second exchange between two worship leaders riffing, or a restless three-year-old flirting with the people behind them in the pews. The ineffable energy exchange of embodied worship that happens in a hundred different ways.
It may be months or (gulp) years before we can all safely be together in one physical place again. We can’t wait that long for the gift of the Holy Spirit to return to us – today on Pentecost Sunday and every day, because we need that Spirit every day.
The poet Rumi said that the longing for God is God. Even if it pangs, let’s not give up wanting that holy huddle. There’s so much Holy Spirit we’ll only get when we are together again.
God, thank you for online church, a decent understudy for the real thing. And thank you that someday we will be able to embrace again – and the Spirit will shower us with power, and sighs too deep for words.
Molly Baskette is Senior Minister of First Congregational Church UCC in Berkeley, California, and the author of the best-selling Real Good Church, Standing Naked Before God, and her newest baby, Bless This Mess: A Modern Guide to Faith and Parenting in a Chaotic World.