THE OUTPOURING OF THE HOLY SPIRIT 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.
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.