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Vol I No. 1
Sermons

Whitsunday

by William J. Martin

He dwelleth with you and shall be in you.

(St. John xiv. 17)

Today we celebrate the feast of the Pentecost. In the English Church it has always been called Whitsunday-White Sunday, because of the white garments worn by those who were traditionally baptized on this day. Pentecost means the fiftieth day. And for the Jews it marked the day on which God gave Moses the Ten Commandments fifty days after Exodus from Egypt. It also assumed the character of thanksgiving for harvest, falling often in May when, given the temperate climate, the Israelites ingathered wheat, oats, peas, vetch, lentils and barley. For the early Jewish-Christians the harvest feast was observed as ever but in that new guise and garment with which the Holy Ghost clothed the infant Church. For on the first Pentecost or Whitsunday the Holy Ghost descended out of the heart of the Ascended Christ and into the community of the Apostles vesting and mantling them with the spiritual gifts that would mark the new union and communion with God the Father that Christ tailors and fashions out of the hearts and souls of true believers.

But how do we understand this new movement of the Holy Ghost at the time of the Church’s first Pentecost? It is not as if 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 presence to the hearts and minds of pilgrim men destined to return to their Maker. 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…The Spirit’s lordly rule and governance is essential for animating and quickening all that lives. So the Spirit is that third Person of the Blessed Trinity without which 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), at the beginning of Creation. Those who fail to see and grasp this are 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, it turns out, came upon warriors, priests, kings and prophets to strengthen and fortify them against their enemies. He speaks to David, and he tells us that The Spirit of the Lord spake by me, and his word was in my tongue. (2 Sam. Xxiii. 2) The Creed tells us that He spake by the prophets. More than merely creating and sustaining, this Holy Spirit carried warnings, admonitions, cautionary advice and counsel, to men like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, and others. Fr. Knox tells us that 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, always prepares men for a fuller revelation of God’s being and nature, His wisdom and truth, and His salvation and redemption. He prepared Old Testament folk for the coming of the Word that would be made flesh and prepares the place where the Word will be made flesh all over again in the lives of the faithful who embrace His real presence. And it is not that He engaged in some kind of Divine possession; rather He worked in dialogue and converse with them, and in accord with their free wills. The Holy Spirit brings an offer, and men either accept or reject it.

And what He prepares men for it is the deepest possible union with God. It comes about only through the life of Jesus Christ. Christ has ascended to the Father, and from there He begins to form a new body out of the hearts and souls of His friends the Apostles- and indeed out of the raw materials of any human life which will find their salvation in Him. Pentecost then, for Christians, is the moment where earthly life becomes one with heavenly desire, and so communion with God begins anew in a fresh and radical way. It is the fulfillment of a promise, one 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 and choice. If…then he says. The invitation is conditional. The Holy Ghost comes only to those who desire Him. The relationship hinges upon love.

But how does this happen? 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 sympathizes with the unbelieving bystanders and onlookers at the time who were in doubt, or with others, [who] 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 not only paranormal but also beyond the scope and ken of anything we might discover spiritually. And yet the first receivers of this heavenly impulse were not extraordinarily bright, talented, creative, artistic, or imaginative. These were common enough men, all very middle class, pious, industrious, and earnest. They had been following Jesus of Nazareth, and their last days with Him were marked by shame, sadness, fear, and then wonder, astonishment, unbelief, and finally trust, confidence, obedience, and faith. As such, they were perfect specimens of what one might dare to call normal human beings. And 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 His Cross. In it the Risen Jesus had appeared to them, feeling their sin most acutely because His forgiveness overwhelmed them more powerfully. In it now, we find that He has come to them again through His Holy Spirit. These are men and women who are not any different from you or me. But one thing is significant: as before, they were watching and waiting for what would come next. Their faith was united and focused, for they were gathered together in unity of purpose. (Ibid, AV, Knox, ii. 1) Jesus had said to them, 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, because they waited for one more thing, the Holy Ghost came upon them, and they went out with one message of Good News and truth, which then the Holy Ghost translated and communicated, through them, to the men of all nations in their own native tongues. (Ibid, ii. 8)

So how can we be shaken and stirred, moved, defined, clothed and dressed with the same sacred garb of the Holy Spirit, so that with the Apostles we might spread the Gospel to the nations once again? If ye love me, Jesus says, keep my commandments. If…then. And so we must ask, with the Apostles of old: Do we love Jesus above all things? If not, then we reveal that we are torn between a slew and mass of false idols and God Himself, and in the end shall have known and loved God only occasionally, fleetingly, uncertainly, disorderly, and chaotically. For, as Oswald Chambers reminds us, if we hesitate [to obey Jesus], it is because we love something else in competition with Him, i.e. [ourselves]. (My Utmost…p. 307) But if we do love Jesus above all things, then we must obey Him. We must keep His commandments. Keeping His commandments means being one with the spirit of the Apostles’ desire to obey God through Him. And we are helped in this endeavor by none other than the Holy Spirit, who helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. (Romans viii. 26) Just as the Holy Spirit was present to the Apostles before, during, and after the Pentecost, so He will be with us. His presence was overwhelmingly dominant and sovereign at Pentecost because He had been growing and maturing, deepening and broadening their faith in and love of Christ all along. So if we love Jesus, strive to keep his commandments, the Holy Spirit will join our desire and affection with His own, and make intercession for us, as we seek to allow His Pentecostal power to convert our souls and align our wills with His everlasting desire for our salvation.

So, at the end of the day, we really must pray that the infinite and eternal Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, who workest all in all, and especially workest and abidest in the hearts and souls of men, will pardon all our resistance to His motions, which quenches the flames which He ever enkindles in our breasts. We pray that He may be pleased to so 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) Long ago, at the first Pentecost, Monsignor Knox remarks that 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, Ign. Press, p. 477) That flood, that explosion pouring up and out of a single narrow compass 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 home to Kingdom of our Father. Amen.