Thoughts for Pentecost

Lesson Acts 2:1-21; Epistle 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13; Gospel John 20:19-23

The risen Lord in the upper room said, “Peace be with you” to his disciples, then “he breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (John 20.22). Commentators generally, and understandably, are reminded of God breathing into humankind the breath of life Genesis 2.7. That John intended to depict an event of significance parallel to that of the first creation cannot be doubted. The gift of the Spirit is the beginning of the new creation. Here is fulfilled the promise that Our Lord made to his disciples in the farewell discourse, in much the same way as what happens on the day of Pentecost in the story we just heard from Acts fulfills the promises he made earlier. So Pentecost was a happy ending to the gospel story.

But beyond that, what has it to do with us? I would say, everything! In this morning’s epistle St Paul says, “in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” In other words, the gift given at Pentecost is a gift to us all.

One must confess that even among orthodox Christians there can at times be a tendency to think of our faith in such a way as to be in effect “binitarian” (if there is such a word) rather than Trinitarian—that’s to say, our faith is all about the Lord Jesus and God the Father, with the Holy Spirit coming in as a kind of afterthought. The very order in which we celebrate the Christian year can perhaps encourage us in that, or at least seem to, with Pentecost appearing as a tail end or afterthought to Easter. But what the Pentecost story should tell us—what Saint Paul spells out—is that our every movement towards God, and certainly our movements towards baptism into Christ and membership of the church, are the work of God’s Spirit within us. So for all of us, far from being last, in the life of faith the Holy Spirit is actually first!

Insofar as we even dare to say the Lord’s prayer, calling God “father”—Abba, the Lord’s own name of trust and affection for his heavenly father—insofar as we even dare enough to attempt to do that, that is the Spirit bearing witness within us that we are children of God. That’s what St Paul says—and he says it more than once, so we may guess that, on the one hand, he felt rather sure about it, and on the other, that he regarded it as rather important (Gal. 4.6; Rom. 8.15-16). And thus it is with all our prayers, as we’re reminded in the wonderful eighth chapter of his Letter to the Romans. We mere mortals don’t really know how to pray at all. How can we? So when we pray, it is God’s own self at work in us, the Spirit of God, the Divine breath, breathing life into us. And what a modest Spirit it is, for we think it is all our own work! And so, in a sense, it is—but as Paul points out, it is also God’s Spirit graciously willing to work in and through us, stirring in us our desire for God, making intercession for us with groans too deep for human utterance. And that is true not only of prayer but of whatever gifts, talents or activities we bring to the life of faith—as, again, this morning’s passage to the Corinthians reminds us: “all these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.”

Let this festival of Pentecost remind us then that our whole life insofar as we seek God’s will is a manifestation of the work and glory of the Divine Trinity, the Holy Spirit working within and through us to draw us into union and conformity with the image of the Son, Who is the revelation of the Father.

To the One God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we now ascribe as is most justly due all might, majesty, dominion and power, now and forever. Amen.

Christopher Bryan


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