Fr Andrew's thought for Pentecost
Wow! That reading is pretty dramatic isn’t it! The Holy Spirit comes down upon the Apostles in the most dramatic of ways – mighty rushing wind, flames of fire, the gift of languages! Speaking for myself, I have never experienced anything like that, maybe you have, but I have not.
And that can be a little daunting. We can feel that we are somehow lesser Christians when we have not shared any such dramatic experience. In fact, many times in the history of the Church trouble and disunity has been caused because one group thinks themselves more gifted than another. I heard a conversation only the other day where one person was saying how he had now been born ‘In the Spirit’ and that his life before, even though he had attended Church all his Christian life was somehow counterfeit, or at best second class. He went on to describe how many people at his previous church had been ‘attenders but not believers.’ It seems to me that this is completely wrong, spiritual pride – and a misunderstanding of what the Pentecost experience was all about.
Of course, something new and dramatic happened on that day. This was a new beginning. But it must always be remembered that this was not the first time the Holy Spirit had acted in the world! The Holy Spirit was at large, in the world well before that day in Jerusalem, described in the first reading today. The Spirit was at work in the opening drama of creation, bringing life and order into the primeval chaos, described in the memorable word 'tohuvavohu' in the opening lines of the book of Genesis. That work undergirds all that is, sustaining and continuing to give it order ...
The energy and power which sustains life day by day is the Spirit. The writers of the Hebrew Scriptures understood this well, as they describe the way God sends the Sun across the sky each day - the fact that this happens in the same way each day does not make it any less a daily miracle, the action of a loving and sustaining God.
Just as it is the Spirit who carries forward both the overall life of God day by day, so also the Spirit holds the specific life of God's chosen people, described in the later books of the Hebrew Bible. And then, ultimately, it is the Spirit who overshadows Mary, so that she bears God's incarnate Son, human and divine in one person, Jesus Christ - to be the saviour of the world. It is the Spirit, as you may have heard me say before, who creates a People for God – a people who are both shown what to do by the Spirit, and given the power to do it – and joined together in the bond of love, ‘hand in hand in hand’. At the heart of that work of the Spirit is the gift of Jesus Christ – who is both the gift and the giver of the Spirit to humanity – in the glorious cooperation of the Trinity.
I have often preached about how important prayer is to sustain our journey as Christians, or at least I used to until the day when at the door of the church a parishioner asked me point blank, “So, have you actually met God in all this praying?” After some embarrassed silence, I had to say that I have never had a vision or a one-to-one meeting with God, or a special gift of His Holy Spirit. Many years later, that’s still true. I can take comfort in Holy Scripture, where Moses asks to see the glory of God. God replies (Exodus 33.20), “You cannot see my face, for no one can see my face and live.”
However, God then relents, and offers Moses a way of experiencing God’s glory. God says to Moses (Exodus, 33.22-23), “I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.” So, looking backwards, Moses can see God’s presence--he can see where God has passed.
This offers us a model for seeking the glory of God. Looking backwards, I can see where God’s glory has been shown to me in my journey--through those who have loved me, through receiving God’s protection and presence at turning points in my life.
I may not have had a vision--seen God face-to-face--but I can bear witness that I have seen God as I look backwards. As we celebrate Pentecost together today, I encourage you to look backwards, to review your life. Where have you met God? Where perhaps in less dramatic ways, have you been inspired, supported and sustained by His Holy Spirit?