There was no mistaking it for the upper room: concrete floor, plastic chairs and a thick steel door. But there we were, a bunch of guys, most in orange jumpsuits and shackles, trying to stumble into some meaning from the story of Pentecost.
Its imagery is powerful. There is the noise of a driving wind like the mighty one that swept over the waters of Genesis. A flock of flames recall Sinai set ablaze in Exodus. Then the once-fearful who are gathered in that room break into ecstatic prayer.
It makes symbolic sense in the narrative of the birth of the Church, but the men in our room didn’t care. Like the Medes and Elamites in the story, they wanted to hear something in their own language — something personal, something that made a difference.
I tried to take them back to those waiting in post-resurrection segregation. Easter was something the disciples could swallow but not digest. The tomb was empty but they didn’t recognize the Risen One Who had left the shrouds of death behind.
Mary Magdalene mistook Him for the gardener. He was just another traveler to Emmaus. And when Peter and his posse went fishing, He was some fella grilling on the beach. At the end of Matthew, we are told “when they saw Him, they worshipped, but they doubted.”
Those gathered in that upper room were confused and perplexed. They needed a new view, the big picture, some sense of direction. Fire and wind aside, Pentecost was the answer to their prayers.
A young man in our group said, “Maybe I had something like that.”
He explained that that for some time, even before jail, he felt imprisoned in darkness. He couldn’t escape the black and painful thoughts of the people he had hurt, love that he had squandered, and the family he had left behind.
What could he do, locked up and already late in the game? Still, he didn’t run from his wretchedness but sat in it and waited. A few nights ago, he awoke to find it suddenly gone, replaced by what he could only describe as a warm light.
The light offered no solutions, just a profound assurance that something had changed and everything was going to be okay.
With that, he bent his head, stretched the chain of his handcuffs, and wiped tears from his eyes. The other guys looked away, giving him that moment, perhaps pondering the possibility of their own Pentecost.