Gracious God, keep us in the unity of your Spirit, that every tongue may tell of your glory; Amen
On Monday evening we had quite a storm in North Vancouver. For the first time in a few years, we had very dramatic lightning, with plenty of thunder, over a period of about 40 minutes. As we sleep in the loft of our house, we got a graphic view of the night sky being lit up along with rolling thunder. It made me think again about how the ancient peoples equated such activity with the presence of God. It also made me wonder if this was the thunderstorm for spring or summer from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.
It is to be hoped that we all experience the Holy Spirit in sometimes dramatic ways and other times less dramatic ways. In a way we get to think about all this in looking at the first reading, which is the quintessential, default reading, for the feast of Pentecost which we celebrate today.
After Easter, Whitsun (as it was often called in the past) or Pentecost, ranks as the second festival of the Church. It dates back to the fourth century in the Christian era, first celebrated in Jerusalem itself. In the western Church, again after Easter, it became an occasion for baptism, with a service resembling the Easter Vigil but without the new fire or paschal candle. This practice faded in the Catholic tradition in the 1950’s.
When we look at the first reading, we go from an intimate gathering in someone’s home to a much large gathering of believers in Jerusalem, addressed by Peter.
At first the action seems like a gathering for introverts, who we are told, prefer smaller gatherings, as opposed to the extravert gathering, with a whole crowd of people, where extraverts tend to thrive.
Of course, this may be, like some of the other things coming from the Rector, a whole lot of non-sense.
But let’s look at the text …
In last week’s gospel passage Jesus (in Luke’s account) directs the disciples to remain in Jerusalem for the coming of the Holy Spirit. Again, we need to remind ourselves that as faithful Jews, the disciples would have been in the city for the festival of Weeks, called Pentecost as it was celebrated 50 days after Passover. The Christian tradition has taken over the same name to mark 50 days since Easter.
There is a link here to the covenant of Mount Sinai (where God gave Moses the commandments) to the coming of the Spirit (with loud sounds and fire); both are foundational to the Jewish and Christian traditions, respectively.
We hear (from the text) that there were many ‘devout Jews from every nation’ living in Jerusalem; in other words, the cosmopolitan atmosphere of the city highlights the effects of the Holy Spirit in spreading the gospel.
Peter speaks of the spirit being poured out on ‘all fresh’, men and women, young and old, regardless of social status. Luke (the author of the gospel, as well as the Acts of the Apostles) is keen on the idea that the salvation Jesus offers, is for all.
One commentator (Carvalhaes) suggests the Holy Spirit validates difference and works through it: in other words, this is not about all members of the church, thinking and acting alike, but rather a group of people that works together and takes transformation as a starting point for manifesting the Spirit.
As our commentator suggests, the Spirit, like the wind, blows us to new places and into new ground. We cannot be inactive to experience Pentecost, it necessarily requires us to search for difference and also to allow ourselves to be changed.
At Pentecost we may be looking for inspiration, direction and this often means being transformed. To use another analogy, like seeds we must learn to let go, even to die to some things, in order that we can find means for new life.
Interestingly enough that has been the pattern of our lives over the last fourteen months. All of a sudden to had to adjust to following our spiritual practice in a very different way. No longer could we walk across the road or get in the car to attend church. Many of us had to learn about using technology to enable us to be joined together. We had to change, adapt, and die to the old ways of being and doing church. And by so doing we have allowed the Holy Spirit to flow through our community. We have now had over a year of services by Zoom, singing hymns by following a YouTube link, having various people lead parts of the worship from their homes scattered across our region and beyond. We have been uprooted from the way our life was before March 2020 and when we have been willing to adapt and change, the spirit has freely flowed through us and our community.
Jesus wanted to assure the disciples that the Spirit, which was about to come, was going to take care of the disciples and ensure they were not alone. For we have God, and God’s spirit, and we have each other, even if we are separated physically from one another.
The spirit is often spoken of as the Paraclete (not the bird) but the advocate for us and for the world. Jesus assures the disciples that the Spirit will speak of events ‘to come’, and reveal the essential nature of God, as well as Christ’s essential nature and power. The word that comes, whether from the Creator, the Son, or the Spirit, is always and for ever the same.
In North Vancouver we weren’t done with weather events, we had a dramatic hailstorm on Wednesday afternoon, which also got mentioned in the weather report on Global.
As with weather we do not know where the Holy Spirit will blow us next, as individuals, as a community. We should be ready to adapt and change, ready as we have been in the last 14 months, as we contemplate a return to Church at some point in the not too distant future. Again, we must be prepared for things to be different, and we will all have once again to be flexible and patient. But as we have found, before and during the pandemic, there are a variety of ways of being the Church, and if we are open and willing to be guided, what is to come will be exciting, inspiring, and deeply spiritual.