When we line up Sunday's three readings in the chronological order of their writing, we discover something important for our faith in the Spirit. Paul wrote I Corinthians almost 25 years before Luke composed Acts and 35 years before John's Gospel came into existence.

Both Luke and John (20:19-23) narrate a definitive, localized coming of the Spirit. Paul doesn't, and not just here in I Corinthians. Nowhere does he refer to the specific time and place of the Spirit's first arrival. This leads Scripture scholars to believe that Jesus' earliest followers experienced the Spirit in their lives long before they heard any narratives of how the Spirit initially came down on the biblical disciples.

Jesus alive

Followers of Jesus first experienced the Spirit in their lives at the moment they began imitating Jesus' dying and rising. Only later did our Sacred Authors compose "Spirit-arrival" narratives to convey their reflections on the meaning of the Spirit's presence in their community's life.

We have no idea how the Spirit descended on the Corinthians community. But Paul, reminding his readers that the manifestations of the Spirit were "for the common good," presumes that the Corinthians recognized the Spirit's presence in the context of their relationships with one another (I Cor 12:3-7, 12-13). Long before Luke and John composed their Pentecost and Easter Sunday upper room narratives, Jesus' followers knew Jesus had sent the Spirit because they were experiencing the Spirit's gifts in the community.

They felt those gifts on two levels. First, each person received at least one specific gift from the Spirit, a talent which no one else in the community received in exactly the same way. Second, the whole community received the gift of forming and maintaining one body, united in its diverse gifts -- gifts which under "normal" circumstances would tear a community apart, not bring them together.

As Paul puts it, "There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit....As a body is one though it has may parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so we, whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free, were all given to drink of one Spirit."

This can only mean that the initial Christian experience of the Spirit springs from recognizing the community's diversity and unity.

Unity in Spirit

The same insight seems to have influenced Luke's Pentecost narrative. The disruptive forces of wind, noise and fire, coming upon the disciples as individuals, eventually forges them and a huge festival crowd into one entity.

"Are not all those people who are speaking Galileans?" the people ask. "Then how does each of us hear them in his native language?" Only the Spirit can bring unity out of social and racial diversity.

John follows the same insight, but with some different twists. Jesus sends the Spirit not on Pentecost morning, but on Easter Sunday night. And he specifically mentions that Jesus shows His disciples His hands and feet before He gives them the Spirit. Obviously, those who are to have Jesus' Spirit must also be willing to accept Jesus' suffering and death in their own lives.

Like Paul and Luke, John believes the Spirit's main role in the community is to hold its diverse members together in unity, a unity which can only be accomplished if each person is willing to forgive others in the community. The cost of forgiveness is death; the result of forgiveness is unity.

Perhaps only those among us who honestly reflect on their Christian dying experience can truly pray, "Come, O Holy Spirit!"