He dwelleth with you and shall be in you.
(St. John xiv. 17)
Today we celebrate the feast of the Pentecost. In the Church of England it is called Whitsunday – White Sunday, because of the white garments worn by those who were traditionally baptized on this day. Pentecost derives from the Latin and means the fiftieth day. For the ancient Jews it marked the day on which God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, fifty days after Exodus from Egypt. It was also a day of thanksgiving for harvest, falling often in May when, given the temperate climate, the Israelites ingathered wheat, oats, peas, vetch, lentils and barley. The early Jewish-Christians retained the character of thanksgiving but extended it to the Holy Ghost’s harvesting of souls for God. For on the first Pentecost, the Holy Ghost descended down from the Ascended Christ and into the community of the Apostles, vesting and mantling them with the spiritual gifts that would generate new communion with God the Father to be tailored and fashioned out of their faithful hearts and souls.
So on this day we are bidden to contemplate this new movement of the Holy Ghost at the time of the Church’s first Pentecost. Yet we should not think that the Holy Ghost had been dormant and inactive prior to the coming of Christ. The Old Testament is full of references to the Holy Ghost’s role in creation and Jewish man’s hope for salvation. In the Creed we say, I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life, who proceedeth from the Father and the Son…. And so we believe that the Spirit’s lordly rule and governance are essential for animating and quickening all that lives. The Spirit is that Third Person of the Blessed Trinity without whom creation would not be. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. (Gen. i. 2) The man who fails to grasp this is like the one who knew not his Maker, and him that inspired into him an active soul, and breathed in a living spirit. (Wisdom xv. 11) The same Spirit, in due time, came upon warriors, priests, kings, and prophets to strengthen and fortify them against their enemies. King David tell us that The Spirit of the Lord spake by me, and His word was in my tongue. (2 Sam. Xxiii. 2) He spake by the prophets. Beyond creating and sustaining, we know that the Holy Spirit carried warnings, admonitions, prophesies, and counsels to men like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, and others. Fr. Knox tells us that by the Holy Spirit they were moved to say various things, much of which it is difficult to understand, and some of which they probably didn’t understand themselves. They were carried away by the impetus of the Holy Spirit, and the great point is that many of the things which they said, or rather which He said through them, were prophesies about the coming of Jesus Christ. (The Creed in Slow Motion: p. 143) The Holy Spirit, in other words, was hard at work on the Jewish people to prepare them for a fuller revelation of God’s promised salvation and redemption. He prepared them for the day when the Word would be made flesh in Jesus Christ and then even for a time when the same Word would come alive in the hearts and souls of all who would believe. And lest we think that He works by a kind-of Divine possession that violates human nature, we must remember that He labors with men always in dialectical conversation inspiring men to freely will and choose to become part of God’s good work.
For it is the work that He invites men into that is of uttermost importance to the Holy Ghost. It comes about only through relationship with Jesus Christ. Christ has ascended to the Father, and from there He desires to continue His work of salvation from the hearts and souls of His friends the Apostles –indeed out of the raw materials of any human being who will forsake all and follow Him. For Christians, Pentecost is the moment where earthly life begins to become one with heavenly desire, and so communion with God begins anew in a radical way. It is the fulfillment of the promise offered by Jesus to his friends: 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 forever; 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. (St. John xiv. 15-17) The offer is not forced. God in Jesus respects man’s power of free will. If…then…, he says. The invitation is conditional. The Holy Ghost comes only to those who desire Him. The ongoing work of God hinges upon desire and love.
Our first encounter of it is found in today’s Epistle reading taken from Acts. And 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. (Acts ii. 1-4) To so many who read this text, the event seems alien, foreign, and even bizarre. Many a Christian is embarrassed to admit that he is really more like the unbelieving bystanders who at the first Pentecost were in doubt, or, mocking said, these men are full of new wine. (Ibid, 12, 13) We tend then to think that whatever happened to the Apostles long ago is wholly paranormal and thus beyond the scope and ken of anything that might flavor our present spiritual predicament. And yet we do well to remember that the first receivers of this heavenly impulse were men who were neither extraordinarily creative or intellectually brave. They were pious and industrious middle class men who were genuinely interested in everything that Jesus of Nazareth said and did. Their last days with Him began in sadness, fear, and shame. Later they were filled with wonder and astonishment. Finally, they would obey, follow, and trust in His promised Presence. They were what used to be called normal human beings. The transformation of their relation to Jesus all happened, mostly, in one place – the upper room or cenacle. This is where we first find them today. In it they had learned of an impending betrayal that He foretold. To its safety they had fled in fear and cowardice when He was dying on the Cross. Into it the Risen Christ entered miraculously, whose loving forgiveness was as much a reason for their newfound belief as His Resurrected Humanity. Into the same cenacle now, we find that He has sent the Holy Ghost. And while these men and women are not any different from you or me, one thing is significant: as before, in the same place, they were watching and waiting for what would come next. They were gathered together in unity of purpose. (Ibid, AV, Knox, ii. 1) Jesus had said, Tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high. (St. Luke xxiv. 49) And so because they had faith in Him and waited for one more thing, the Holy Ghost came upon them, and they began the work of spreading the Good News to all nations.
But how can we be shaken and stirred to, defined, and moved by the same work that the Holy Spirit began in the lives of the Apostles? The Holy Ghost intends that we should be involved in this work and yet it seems in our own time that men’s hearts have grown cold to the Gospel. Jesus says to us today, If ye love me, keep my commandments. If…then. And so we must ask ourselves this: Do we love Jesus enough to keep His commandments? If not, then clearly we are torn between a slew of lesser loves and the love of Christ. In which case it should become clear enough that we love Christ only occasionally, inconstantly, and incompletely. For, If we hesitate [to obey Jesus], it is because we love something else in competition with Him, i.e. ourselves. (My Utmost…, p. 307) However, if we do love Jesus, then we shall be quick to obey Him and keep His commandments, since doing so is the condition whereby He works His love in our hearts by the Holy Ghost. His love cannot sanctify and save us without our willingness to accept the terms of His rule in our lives. His presence was overwhelmingly effectual at the First Pentecost because the Apostles’ watching and waiting was characterized by a love that trusted that Christ would continue His work in them in a far more substantial way. If our watching and waiting is tempered by the same obedient love, the Holy Ghost, even the Spirit of Truth, will abide with us forever. (St. John xiv. 16)
So today, we must pray that the infinite and eternal Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, who workest all in all…will pardon all our resistance to His motions…and will fan the flames which He ever enkindles in our breasts. We pray that He may…enlighten our minds and purify our hearts that we may be fit to receive and entertain Him, as the Guide and Comforter of our souls, working mightily upon our hearts, fitting and suiting our souls to that glory which is unspeakable and everlasting. (B. Jenks, 354) At the first Pentecost the irresistible force [of the Holy Spirit]…was compressed into a single narrow compass; and the result was a kind of flood, a kind of explosion. (Sermons, Knox, Ign. Press, p. 477) That flood or that explosion is the rushing mighty wind of Christ’s Spirit who still longs to catch us up in the wind of His love as He carries us into that work that will bear both us and others to His Kingdom. With the poet let us pray that the work of His love will ravish us.
With all thy Heart, with all thy Soul and Mind,
Thou must him love, and his Beheasts embrace:
All other Loves, with which the World doth blind
Weak Fancies, and stir up Affections base,
Thou must renownce, and utterly displace;
And give thyself unto him full and free,
That full and freely gave himself for thee.
Then shalt thou feel thy Spirit so possest,
And ravisht with devouring great Desire
Of his dear self, that shall thy feeble Breast
Inflame with Love and set thee all on fire
With burning Zeal, through every part entire;
That in no earthly things thou shalt delight,
But in his sweet and amiable Sight.
(E Spenser: A Hymn of Heavenly Love)