It is the same disciple who vouches
       for what has been written here. He 
       it is who wrote it, and we know that
       his testimony is true.
       John 21:24.

Full readings: Acts 28:16-20, 30-31; Psalm 11:4-5, 7;St. John 21:20-25.

As the great Fifty days draw to a close we come to the end of our readings from Acts and St. John's gospel. I always get a tremendous thrill from reading these together. This gospel is for me the most wonderful piece of literature ever written, as it unfolds `the great Mystery'. The Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us as the will and work of the Father was accomplished through His Son, culminating in His offering of Himself as the Paschal lamb. It is full of mysticism and richness of life through the Spirit. It also reveals the fruits of a Church living out the Gospel before it was written by the beloved disciple or one of his disciples. 
Acts is St. Luke's account of the early church that is living out of the teachings of the Risen and Ascended Lord. Both witness that what our Lord taught was true. He indeed is "the way, the life and the truth". Both show clearly that only Jesus could give eternal life to fallen man. In Christ the Father is also revealed so that all who believed would know God. Both state that although God offers eternal life to all, there are many who shun Truth and Light because they prefer their own darkness, and therefore will never taste eternal delights. Christ came to dismantle darkness so that all may be bathed in His glorious light. Both exclaim that freedom is the passport of being a Christian because through Baptism the believer is freed from the tyranny of sin, the world and flesh, and arises a new, liberated person in Christ.
Acts finishes with Paul in Rome, the pulse of the Roman empire, to await his appeal to Caesar. He was allowed private lodgings with a police escort. In such a free environment he was able to expound "from dawn to dusk" the meaning of the Scriptures to the many visitors he had. As Paul, unhindered in Rome, explained the Scriptures with its fulfillment in Christ I am reminded of another great Father of the early church, St. Ambrose who lived not far away in Milan in the fourth century and who also spent his days expounding the Scriptures. One day a rather arrogant, polished rhetorician came to listen to him. That listening changed his life, and the course of much Western theology! In 387 St. Augustine was baptized during the Easter Vigil Liturgy after his Lenten course of preparation under the guidance of the great St. Ambrose.
St. John's Gospel ends with that wonderful challenge to Peter by our Lord in the Gospel for yesterday, and concludes to-day with the prophesying of Peter's marytrdom. Those two spearheads in the early church, Peter and Paul, tradition tells us died under the great persecution of Nero c.64.A.D. Their martyrdom we commemorate on the 29th June each year. However the Gospel does not end right there. It continues with a few more but powerful verses. The first of these the author assures us that everything which has been disclosed is true; "his testimony is true", and the other is the acknowledgement that what has been recorded is but a portion of everything that Jesus did, so numerous were these that one would run out of books to contain them, thus unfolding how abundantly generous the God who became incarnate to bring us salvation is. What a wonderful way to end the these Fifty days to ponder on how many yet more marvellous things we shall discover in our heavenly home.

And now to the vigil of the Pentecost; our thoughts must turn to this great feast and proper preparation for it. Pentecost, the old Jewish festival of giving the first-fruits of the harvest to God, now superseded by Christ being the first-fruit "of His creation", (Jam.1:18) and "of the harvest of the dead".  Our Lord is the first-fruit of life, and through that is our hope. Just as Jesus the unblemished lamb offered His life to God and the Jews offered to God their first-fruits of the earth, so must we offer our first-fruits. It may also be helpful for us to recall that when the Jews made their gifts they also recited a thanksgiving of how the Lord had been merciful and kind to them in delivering them from their bondage in Egypt and bringing them to "a land with wheat and barley, vines, fig trees, and pomegranates, a land with olive oil and honey." (Deut. 8:8) As we bring our first-fruits, that is the best of what we have and are to the altar, let us also do it in thanksgiving for the bondage from which Christ has delivered us, and for the promised land to which He had brought us, a land indeed "flowing with olive oil and honey". Oh, how many are the gifts He gives us through the Spirit! All this week we have prayed about receiving various gifts of the Spirit, such as wisdom, knowledge, holy fear, truth, understanding and love. There are also those other virtues which Paul enumerated for us: "joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, fidelity, gentleness and self-control" (Gal.5:22). How different are these from the behaviour of those not living in the Spirit of Christ. St. Paul tells us that these people manifest "fornication, indecency, and debauchery; idolatry and sorcery, quarrels, a contentious temper, envy, fits of rage, selfish ambitions, dissensions, party intrigues, and jealousies; drinking bouts, orgies and the like" (Gal. 5:19-20). When we see them juxtaposed it hits home, doesn't it, just how different is the  living in the Spirit of Christ as against the world's. That is why our Lord warned us that the world would never understand His coming or His teaching. Let us pray that we may always understand that we must show forth the fruits of the Spirit in our lives.
In our preparation for the feast of gifts we cannot overlook that other Testimony which St. John's gospel unfolds. "He will bear witness to me." (Jn. 15:26) The Spirit of Truth will testify to the whole world "of Christ, that He is God, that He is man, that He is Christ, the Saviour of the world; that He came to save sinners, ... [and] that He is a complete and universal Saviour" (Mark Frank, Vol. 2, p.218). It is only through the Spirit of Truth that everything will be revealed to us: our purpose for living, our sins, and potential through restoration and cleansing. Let us also pray that the Spirit of Truth this Pentecost will purify, freshen and quicken us.
One final but vital thought for this Vigil - we must always be conscious that without the Holy Spirit there is no vitality to life in this world, and even God's actions are unrelated to us. This pulsating life of the Spirit is illustrated in this extract from an address given by the Metropolitan Ignatias of Latakia:
Without the Holy Spirit God is far away.
Christ stays in the past,
the Gospel is simply an organization,
authority a matter of propaganda,
the liturgy is no more than an evolution,
Christian loving a slave morality.
But in the Holy Spirit
the cosmos is resurrected and grows
with the birth pangs of the Kingdom,
the Risen Christ is there,
the Gospel is the power of life,
the Church shows forth the life of the Trinity,
authority is a liberating science,
mission is a Pentecost,
the liturgy is both renewal and anticipation,
human action is deified. 

O Holy Spirit descend upon me this Pentecost and fill me with the Spirit as You poured out upon the apostles. Just as You turned them from frightened and timid men into men of boldness and fearlessness make me also. Let the quality of my life preach the gospel to all.  I ask this through Jesus Christ ... Amen.



The day of Pentecost had come, and they 
were all together in one place. Suddenly 
       there came from the sky what sounded like 
a strong, driving wind, a noise which filled 
the whole house where they were sitting. And 
       there appeared to them flames like tongues of 
       fire distributed among them and coming to rest
                                                     on each one. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit
and began to talk in tongues.
Acts 2:1-4.

Full readings: Acts 2:1-11; Ps. 104:1-2, 29-30, 34-35; 1Corinthians 12:3-7, 12-13; St. John 20:19-23.

Nothing can contain the Spirit; it blows where it wills, and fills the whole world, renewing everything in it. Nothing is exempted from the power of His coming. How clearly is this revealed in Acts. The very foundations of the prison holding Paul and Silas were shattered by an enormous earthquake while these two apostles were filled with songs of praise and thanksgiving despite their physical pain, and the gaoler and his family were baptised. Philip was directed to the Ethiopian who was resting and reading the Scriptures on his long journey home. Tabitha was raised from the dead, the slave-girl was freed from the taunting evil spirits, and Paul himself was saved from certain lynching by a Jewish mob. Indeed there is:
no chamber so secret, but it can get into; no place so remote, but it can reach; none so private. but it   can find; none so strong, but it can break through; none so deep, but it can fathom; none so high, but it       can scale; no place at all, but it can come into; and none so bad, but some way or other it will vouchsafe to visit. 

      The apostles as they met in prayer which had been their custom since Jesus departed from them forty days ago were suddenly bombarded with something undescribable - a mighty wind it sounded like, and in that instant their lives were completely changed. Never to be the same Peter or James or John again! They were to be the new men in Christ as He had promised they would be when He returned to them. During these great Fifty days we have been reflecting on this change, and have seen the great and wondrous works of God achieved through them. Through them the Spirit of the Lord was filling the whole civilized world at that time. (Of course John's gospel told us that the disciples received the breath of God from Jesus on the day of the Resurrection).

Pentecost means bestowing gifts. Everything we have is a gift from the Spirit - every skill, every talent, every virtue, and every good thought. Our understanding and wisdom, reason and knowledge, godly fear and true godliness, counsel and spiritual strength are His gifts too. There is nothing, but absolutely nothing that we possess that we can claim as ours. We owe everything to His generosity of filling us each day with so many good things. The extraordinary thing about the gifts of the Spirit is that the more we allow them to be expressed in us, the more gifts we shall discover we are given each day, and the more the Lord can do through us. The riches of the Spirit's giving are unfathomable; they pass all human understanding. If we but realise that we owe everything to Him, our lives would flow with gratitude, joy and above all humility. It would also take away any feeling of inadequacies or being nervous and tense about doing "my best", because we know that "my best" is what the Holy Spirit is doing through me. We are His instrument; it is He who is actually the artist! That is why one of the saddest things in life is to see how many, many souls inhibit the gifts of the Spirit. When we say that "this person has so much potential, if only!" What we are really saying is something like this, "if only the Spirit with His manifold gifts could be made manifested in that person's life."
As wonderful as all these gifts are, there is one yet more glorious than all of these together. That gift is to be able to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, so that we can indeed receive grace. "No one can say 'Jesus is Lord!' except under the influence of the Holy Spirit." (1Cor.12:3) Thus it is the Spirit within us that draws us from darkness into His most marvellous light. In this light we are given the perception to see ourselves as tarnished with so much dross, and the propensity to have our tarnished image cleaned. In other words we are given grace to acknowledge our need for a Saviour. This is what prompted the gaoler to ask Paul "what must I do to be saved?" (Acts.16:30) Once we are able to accept in our hearts that Christ is the Lord of our lives, then we welcome Love simultaneously. Possessing Christ, through the gift of the Spirit, brings also Love, Truth, Light and Life. In possessing these, there is absolutely nothing else we need. Little wonder then this is the greatest gift we can be given, to believe in Christ and His teachings. And it is no marvel that St. Paul in his writings uses the phrase "in Christ", over and over again. Next time you are reading his letters, keep this thought in mind.

Lancelot Andrewes described Pentecost as being "the feast of love", the festum charitatis, the day on which He bestows some gifts upon His people, The Spirit is "sent to be the union, love and love-knot of the natures united in Christ; even of God with man."  On this feast of Love, Andrewes equated the giving of love with the work of love as expressed in the Eucharist, "the feast of Love, upon the feast day of Love".
And of His fruits the very first is love. ... Now to work love, the undoubted both sign and means of His dwelling, what better way, or how sooner wrought, than by the sacrament of love; as the feast of love, upon the feast day of love; when love descended with both His hands full of gifts, for very love to take up His dwelling within us. ....
He left us the gifts of His Body and Blood. His body broken, and full of the characters of love all over. His blood shed, every drop whereof is a great drop of love. ... His body the Spirit of strength, His Blood the Spirit of comfort; both the Spirit of love.  

One last thought for our reflection upon this day of gifts. Pentecost we have always associated with the liturgical colour of red as symbolising the burning flames of fire which descended upon the gathered assemble. However in the Orthodox Churches the liturgical colour for this feast is green, the colour of creation. By Pentecost the countryside is indeed exploding in all its greenness, every kind of tree is now mantled in its fresh green dress. Thus we are reminded that it is not only we human beings who are charged through the indwelling of the Spirit, but indeed all of God's creation. It is the living Spirit who from the beginning has filled everything with His goodness and beauty. As Hopkins so rightly says: 
The whole world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil

The other Christian tradition which has always identified closely with God ever present in His creation is the Celtic. Indeed the Spirit within mankind and the natural world fuse. We are becoming more and more aware of this as more early and mediaeval Celtic poetry is being translated from its original tongue. In this early Celtic Poem appropriately called Benediction this is clearly illustrated. 
Glorious Lord, I give You greeting!
Let the church and the chapel praise You,
Let the chapel and the church praise You.
Let the plain and the hillside praise You,
Let the world's three well-springs praise You,
Two above wind and one above land,
Let the dark and the daylight praise You.
Abraham, founder of faith, praised You:
Let the life everlasting praise You,
Let the birds and honeybees praise You,
Let the shorn stems and the shoots praise You,
Both Aaron and Moses praised You:
Let the male and female praise You,
Let the seven days and the stars praise You,
Let the air and the ether praise You,
Let the books and the letters praise You,
Let the fish in the swift streams praise You,
Let the thought and the action praise You,
Let the sand-grains and earth-clods praise You,
Let all the good that's performed praise You,
And I shall praise You, Lord of Glory:
Glorious Lord, I give You greeting! 
As Celtic poetry is full of the spontaneity of life, given by the Spirit, I would also like to share with you a verse from another poem, The Skylark, with you; this one comes from the mediaeval period.
Let each good creatures praise his
Creator, pure radiant Lord.
Praising God as He bade you,
Thousands listen, do not cease.
Lyrist of love, where are you?
Lucid voice in garb of grey.
Your song is sweet and merry,
Melodious russet muse.
Chanter of heaven's chapel,
Fair is faith, great is Your skill.
All honour, harmonious song,
Broad is your cap, brown-tufted. 

So it is the Spirit that renews, replenishes, revitalises every part of creation, what we call the natural world and we human beings. Both are intrinsically linked through the living Spirit. That is why Christians must always take an active role of caring for nature, and seek others to do likewise. Just as our own bodies are the temple for the Spirit so every branch, every flower, every bird, every mountain and every lake are also.
As we unite ourselves to Love today at the altar rail, let us pray fervently that the Spirit of the living God may fall afresh on us. On this day of gifts, let us also bring a gift to Him - ourselves- but let that gift of ourselves emptied of self, in order to be filled with the Spirit.

On this day of gifts, fill me O blessed Spirit with those gifts You know I need to be Yours in this world. Help me to grow in the fruits of the Spirit: humility, patience, long-suffering and love. I pray that I may simply be a vessel for you to replenish over and over again with Your gifts in order to proclaim Christ as Lord of the universe. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ.. Amen.

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Marianne Dorman