WHITSUNDAY – THE DAY OF PENTECOST (Spiritus Domini)
Introit: The Spirit of the Lord hath filled the whole world, alleluia: and that which containeth all things hath knowledge of the voice, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. Ps. (68) Let God arise, and let his enemies be scattered: let them also that hate him flee before him.
Collect: O God, who as on this day didst teach the hearts of thy faithful people, by the sending to them the light of thy Holy Spirit: grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgement in all things; and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort; through the merits of Christ Jesus our Saviour, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the same Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.
OT Lesson: Thus saith the Lord: And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: and also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit. And I will shew wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the Lord come. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be salvation, as the Lord hath said, and in the remnant whom the Lord shall call.
Alleluia. (Ps 104) O send forth thy Spirit and they shall be created: and thou shalt renew the face of the earth. Alleluia.
Epistle (NT Lesson): When the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilæans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judæa, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our own tongues the wonderful works of God. (Acts 2.1-11)
Alleluia. The Holy Spirit, proceeding from the throne, came down in unseen majesty, as on this day, upon the Twelve, purifying their inmost hearts. Alleluia. Come, Holy Ghost, fill the hearts of thy faithful people: and kindle in them the fire of thy love. Alleluia.
The Holy Gospel: At that time: Jesus said unto his disciples: If ye love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also. At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you. He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him. Judas saith unto him, not Iscariot, Lord, how is it that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, and not unto the world? Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent me. These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you. But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away, and come again unto you. If ye loved me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I. And now I have told you before it come to pass, that, when it is come to pass, ye might believe. Hereafter I will not talk much with you: for the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me. But that the world may know that I love the Father; and as the Father gave me commandment, even so I do. (St John 14.15-31)
“When the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.”
This day brings the Paschal Season to a close. Following a week of weeks, on this the true “Octave Day” of Easter, we have arrived at the fiftieth day, or “Pentecost.” We are so accustomed to thinking of Pentecost as a Christian feast that we might forget that it existed as a Jewish Holy Day for many centuries before the Church inherited it. The second of the three Great Feasts, celebrated fifty days after Passover, the Harvest Festival of Shavuot (Heb. “Weeks”), along with the offering to God of the firstfruits, commemorated the giving of the Commandments on Mount Sinai. It was a time when all the people were to come together to celebrate the gifts of life, law, and liberty that bound them to God and to one another. That Pentecost, like so many before, Jews and proselytes alike made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, many of them longing for deliverance and renewal.
The disciples are also in Jerusalem, awaiting the Festival of Shavuot. Still frightened and confused, they have no idea how to carry out their Lord’s final command to be His witnesses to the ends of the earth. But then suddenly, with gale-force wind and blazing fire, they experience the living presence of God in their inmost hearts, moving them from sadness to joy and from fear to revival. They are filled with this Holy Spirit and sent forth to proclaim the good news of salvation in Christ. And thousands responded. These newly-inspired apostles literally “turn the world upside down.” (Acts 17.6) Jesus has become once again a living and powerful reality, and forever thereafter present wherever two or three are gathered in his Name, just as He promised. “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the ages.” Because of Pentecost.
Wind and fire—two of the most powerful and fearsome natural forces we know. Not a gentle dove wafting down from heaven, but a mighty wind and tongues of fire! That is how the Spirit came. Pentecost is the special day on which the Church acknowledges specifically a fact that is true at all times: namely, that if we did not have the Holy Spirit, the Church would be dead, for the same reason we would soon keel over and die if we stopped breathing right now.
The Latin word for “spirit” (spiritus), the Hebrew (רוּחַ ruach), and the Greek (πνεῦμα pneuma) all mean “breath” or “wind” as well as “spirit” – that is, “air in motion.” The Holy Spirit is an unseen phenomenon—no one can see Him, only His effects. At the same time, however, we know that both wind and breath can also be awesome realities. The “breath of life” provided by CPR literally means the difference between life and death. And certainly we are aware that wind can be hugely destructive—one need not be able to see this “air in motion” to respect its reality or its power. Only God can create life where there was previously nothing. The entire Creation began when the Spirit of God blew over the waters of chaos. The creation of humanity in the image of God came only when the Spirit of God was breathed into the first man’s nostrils. Likewise, the re-creation of humanity in the image of Christ requires this Pentecostal encounter with the life-giving Breath of God.
And “cloven tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.” From the very earliest accounts—the burning bush, the pillar that led the Israelites in the exodus from Egypt, the top of Mount Sinai where the Law was given—the mysterious Spirit of God has been represented by fire. The colour for Pentecost is red, symbolizing this fire. What makes fire such an eloquent symbol? The Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies. Think of a campfire, or a crackling fireplace on a cold winter night—fire seems to have the power to gather us around it. The Holy Spirit calls and brings us together. Fire is a source of light. In like manner the Holy Spirit enlightens us, bringing brightness and clarity to even our darkest situations. And fire is a method of purification. Precious metals are obtained by burning away the dross, purifying the metal in the consuming heat of a raging furnace. And that, too, describes the work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit burns within us, purging us of the baser things, burning away all that is unworthy or sinful, sanctifying and purifying us with the power of God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness. As the beloved hymn “Come down, O Love divine” (Hymnal #487) puts it:
O let it freely burn, till earthly passions turn
To dust and ashes in its heat consuming;
And let thy glorious light shine ever on my sight,
And clothe me round, the while my path illuming.
As with breath, our lives depend on fire. Without fire we have no light, no heat, no means of cooking, no means of sustaining life. In many primitive cultures members of the community were appointed as “keepers of the fire.” So important was this responsibility, that should the fire die, that “keeper of the fire” could also face death, for it spelt the death of the entire community. But as we all know, fire is also dangerous—a terrifying, destructive force that may perhaps be domesticated, but never tamed—ever ready to rage out of control, consuming everything in its path. Unless we remember this, we miss the significance of the tongues of fire as a symbol of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Our God is a consuming fire (Ex. 24.17, Heb. 12.29). And on this Day of Pentecost, God has come upon these men and women like a fire, burning away all selfishness and timidity from their troubled hearts, and leaping from person to person with incredible and uncontrollable energy. It grows in seconds from a spark to a mighty blaze. That fire has burnt across continents and down centuries, and still burns among and within us today. Our forbears kept that fire and have passed it on to us. There are times in our lives when it burns with power and fierce heat; there are other times when it gutters and almost seems to die. But it will continue to burn so long as we do not extinguish it. There is no more sacred trust, for if the fire is allowed to die, then we, too, shall surely die. That fire is the Church’s life.
And that fire is all-consuming. It is no coincidence that “spirit” and “alcohol” are often used synonymously. When a person is drunk, the alcohol influences everything: thinking, speech, and physical movements are all affected. When the crowds in Jerusalem saw the apostles’ enthusiasm after receiving the Holy Spirit, the conclusion of many was that they were drunk. In a way, they were! They had a new Spirit within them that controlled their thinking, their speaking, and their every action and movement. And that is what the Holy Spirit seeks to do in all of us. There are many spirits in this world that we can breathe in, but whereas some spirits can consume our lives, only the Spirit of God will finally bring us true life. All other spirits lead sooner or later to disappointment and confusion, but when God’s Holy Spirit fills us, we find a purpose, a clarity, and a zeal for life that can come from nowhere else.
The Holy Spirit did not come to make things easy. In fact, Pentecost presents a new challenge. The barriers are down, so the disciples must step outside the box – outside their safety zone – and share the message of God’s grace and salvation with all people. Just as the Spirit of God filled those gathered on the first Pentecost, so we are energized by the same Spirit to reorient ourselves, to move from being those who build walls to those who build relationships. The Holy Spirit is at work wherever there is Christian community. The Holy Spirit is present wherever there are “sighs too deep for words.” (Rom.8.26) The Holy Spirit is manifested wherever there is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, and self-control.” (Eph. 5.22-23) Christ promises us the Holy Spirit to help us, to challenge us, and to give us wisdom as we journey in faith into God’s mission field with His message of love, hope, and salvation.
Come, Holy Ghost, fill the hearts of thy faithful people: and kindle in them the fire of thy love.
Pentecost is not just some historic commemoration. Pentecost is now … and every day. It is the journey of the Christian life itself. God grant that His Holy Spirit may burn bright within us all, that others may catch the flame and join us in serving our loving and ever-living Lord.
Kristus nousi kuolleista!
Christ is risen!
Collect: Almighty and most merciful God: grant we beseech thee, that by the indwelling of thy Holy Spirit, we may be enlightened and strengthened for thy service; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
“The God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13.20-21)”