Summary: Looking at Pentecost and the gift of the Spirit to the Church
I’ve previously made the point in a sermon that I know my word processor on my computer is an Anglican, because every time I type in the word ‘church’ it tries to suggest ‘Church of England’ as a valid alternative.
The feast of Pentecost which we celebrate today is considered by many to be the beginning of the Church, but perhaps it is more useful to think of Pentecost as only part of it. One way to view Pentecost is as the final in a series of events that lead up to the time when we can see that the Christian church has been born – the final in a series of revelations by God of himself. Pentecost is the time when the final part of the trinity of God is revealed to us in full, the first time that we can look and see God in his wholeness revealed to us, or at least in the way that God is revealed to us on this side of eternity.
The revelation of God to his creation begins right at creation’s beginning. God the Father is revealed through the act of creation itself, and in that act of creation we do already see elements of the triune God already unfolding and taking shape. John’s gospel sees the Son, the Logos, the Word at work in creation, and the Genesis narrative speaks of the Spirit of God hovering on the surface of the waters. God the Son is foreshadowed in the Old Testament as it speaks of the Messiah, one to redeem Israel, and then more fully revealed through the birth of Jesus Christ, and God the Holy Spirit is revealed at Pentecost which we celebrate today, having been an occasional glimpse in the Old Testament and revealed in the teachings of Jesus, largely in the writings of John’s gospel.
Pentecost was not originally a Christian festival, and derives originally as an agricultural festival beginning on the 50th day after the Passover giving thanks to God for the first fruits of the ‘Spring Harvest’. Even in Jewish history however that changed, and it became more of a festival to celebrate the religious history of God’s people and a celebration of His creation. This was the case by New Testament times.
Pentecost celebrates the fulfilment of the revelation of God to his people – Father, Son and Holy Spirit, at least until the final revelation at the second coming of Christ. It marks the point at which the church on earth is prepared fully to engage with God. It of course marks most strongly the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the church. This coming is foreshadowed on a few occasions by Jesus.
Jesus promises to the disciples that he will ask God the Father and he will send the comforter to be with them, who is the Spirit of truth, and who will lead them into all truth. When Jesus appears to them after his resurrection, he breathes on them and says ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’, yet this is only a partial receipt of God’s Spirit because as John makes clear earlier in his gospel, the Spirit could not come fully until the Son had been fully glorified, which would happen at the Ascension, which we celebrated 10 days ago.
Streams of living water is how Jesus describes the Spirit – streams of living water flowing up from within is how we are meant to see the gift of the Holy Spirit to us, and it is important that when we relate to God we relate to him in this tripartite way – as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Through the Spirit we are given a great resource for our life, as important as any natural resource here on earth for out spiritual life. There is no sense within the Bible and within the Christian understanding of God that the Holy Spirit is in any sense an optional extra, like air-conditioning or electric rear windows on a car. When we turn our lives over to God, we turn the whole of our lives over to the totality of God. We worship and celebrate a triune God – God in three persons, blessed trinity!
Pentecost is a day to celebrate hope – to remind ourselves that God has given us the resources with which to resource our life together. It is a celebration of the constant recreation that goes on as we are changed and transformed into the likeness of Christ.
Pentecost is a past, a present and a future reality. We remember the Holy Spirit coming down on the disciples for the first time, we celebrate the daily reality of the Spirit given to us by God and as we see the church move into missionary mode after the coming of the Spirit we look ahead to the work that is ahead of us in serving and following Christ, all aided by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is because of the Holy Spirit that we can say ‘God is here’, ‘God is with us’. The psalmist says, ‘where can I go from your spirit, where can I flee from your presence.’ One of the names for Jesus was Immanuel, ‘God with us’, and exactly the same truth is expressed in the gift of the Holy Spirit, God’s first and perhaps greatest gift to the church – himself.