In the Name…
A friend of mine had a church up in Washington State and one year his choir director found an anthem to use on Pentecost. Musically, it was quite good, but the original text had been written in German and part of the English translation was not acceptable to my friend. It went: “And there arose a mighty wind. Alleluia. Alleluia. It came from where they sat. Alleluia. Alleluia.”
But can you imagine what it must have been like that first Pentecost Day? A morning, like any other morning. Then, without warning, a sound like the roaring of a tornado, but the curtains didn’t move. Flames appeared over everybody’s heads, but the flames didn’t scorch or burn. And everyone began to speak in other languages, even languages they had never spoken before.
What must it have been like to be there that day? To have been part of the new thing that God was creating; this new community of faith: The Church? Well, we might not have been there 2,000 years ago but we are part of the Church which came into being that day. And, just as the Holy Spirit filled those first Christians, so too the Holy Spirit fills and inspires us today.
You see, Pentecost was never intended to be a once only affair. And, if all we do today is think about it as an event which took place a couple of thousand years ago involving a group of long-deceased people, then it is no different to the Fourth of July when we remember the signing of a document a couple of hundred years ago involving another group of long-deceased people.
No, rather, today we are celebrating the fact that Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit, is a daily event in the life of the Christian and of the Church.
Grace Cathedral in San Francisco does something very interesting today. They release bushels of rose petals from the ceiling to simulate the tongues of flame which descended on the Apostles, and, lest we think this is just some strange California creation, in fact, it’s a re-creation of what many mediaeval cathedrals would do a thousand years ago.
Some cathedrals would even have permanent trap-doors in the ceilings from where the rose petals would be released. These were called, "Holy Ghost holes." Of course, we don’t have any here at St. Paul’s, but I think we need "Holy Ghost holes" more than ever. Not in the ceiling, though, but openings in our society through which God’s Spirit can flow and revitalize the people around us who are caught up and overwhelmed in and by our violent, narcissistic, materialistic culture.
In fact, we ourselves can serve as "Holy Ghost – Holy Spirit - holes" – witnessing to the power of God’s love in this world. We can be conduits of God’s grace in a graceless world. And, if we can do that then we will understand what makes Pentecost different to an observance. Observances are for the past. Pentecost is for the present. And the apostles clearly believed it was to reoccur and be renewed for each new convert daily.
For our personal, individual Pentecost occurred the day we were baptised.
At our baptism, God adopted us as brothers and sisters of Christ; our souls received the gift of eternal life; and we became empowered to live lives filled with love, joy, patience, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control.
As St. Paul says, "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation", and it is the Holy Spirit who enables us to live out that newness.
On Pentecost, the first response of the disciples was to go out into the market and proclaim the Good News. The Spirit enabled them to cross over boundaries of ethnicity and race, so that each person could hear the Gospel in a language that they could understand. I can imagine that some of them must have been terrified – especially the one who found himself speaking in Pamphylian, whatever that was. But it was a challenge he overcame.
Today, we still face that challenge. People still need to hear the Gospel proclaimed in language they understand. We need to proclaim it in the context of a culture that knows little about any church, let alone the Episcopal Church. We need to proclaim it to those in our community that have not generally been a part of this church. We even need to proclaim it to people who have grown up in the church. We need to proclaim it with loving deeds and words that enable people to understand what God is trying to tell them through us.
But we cannot do it in our own power. It must be with the power and the strength and the might and creativity and love of the Holy Spirit overflowing in us.
I know you will all probably go from here thinking this week about "Holy Spirit holes." And I know some of you will hope and pray you don’t see me standing on a ladder holding a saw. But I hope all of us will allow the Holy Spirit to work in us and make us a church that is living, renewed, and refreshed. For the Church is us and that was the excitement of the first Pentecost.
May you be filled with that same Spirit. Our church, our community, our world needs it – needs us - more than ever.
In the Name…