Acts 2:1-21: When the day of Pentecost had come, the disciples were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.
Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.
Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?
Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs– in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”
All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
`In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ ”
The Feast of Pentecost, like many things in the Christian Church, was taken from somewhere else. It is the name for the Festival of Weeks, marked 50 days after the Jewish Passover. The events described in today’s reading from Acts, happened on Pentecost or the Festival of Weeks (actually an agricultural festival) and eventually the name was used by the Christian Church to describe the day, as Jesus promised, the Holy Spirit descended to the earth. However, the name didn’t come along until somewhat recently, as the early church used the term Whitsunday. If one checks this day in the Book of Common Prayer Lectionary, you will find that the term Whitsunday is used.
In the greater scheme of things, Whitsunday or Pentecost, isn’t really the important aspect. What we need to focus on is what we celebrate on this, the 50th day following Easter. (By the way, in the early church, the entire time between Easter and Pentecost, all 50 days, was called Pentecost.) In our understanding today, although you would be hard pressed to see it in our society, Easter is not, in fact, a single day, but a 50 day period of celebration of the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus. Easter season ends only with the return of the Son to Heaven and the Spirit coming down as the counsellor, guide, advocate, whatever term you most prefer.
The larger question, one the church doesn’t talk nearly enough about, is what it means that the Spirit has descended? People often ask to be baptized on Pentecost Sunday, which clergy are anxious to have happen as a way to increase the celebration. In more recent years, a tradition has begun to celebrate this as the “birth”day of the church. In fact, that is certainly true. But it still doesn’t take us to a place where we want to investigate what it means to have the Holy Spirit in our lives.
In my life, I have spent time in a wildly charismatic Anglican Church and a very staunch Anglo-Catholic church, which might well provide the bookends for an understanding of the place of the Spirit in our lives. Or does it? I might wonder out loud how many of us give much thought to the Holy Spirit or what role the Spirit might play in our relationship with God.
While Acts gives us the story of the arrival of the Spirit, the reading from Romans and the Gospel passage from John, send us in the direction of relationship as the work of the Spirit. There is the extended passage in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians that gives a broader understanding of how the Spirit works in us and among us.
When all is said and done, the best description may well be the one I heard first. The Spirit is a still, small voice that guides us. Quietly, gently, when we open our hearts and minds to the presence of the Third Person of God, we begin to see the life that is mapped for us. It is kicked askew by life, and sin, and indifference and ego. But that still small voice is there if we will listen for it. Some days the Spirit will exhort us to a crashing and booming party, others a quiet introspective chat about life.
Much has been said, preached and written about the Holy Spirit. Some will suggest to you things that might not sit comfortably with you. Some will want to you believe the Spirit makes demands of us, pushes us where we do not want to go. For many, many years now, I have understood the Spirit in a different fashion. The Holy Spirit is present, is caring, is loving, is encouraging, is helpful, is life giving. That doesn’t mean the Spirit doesn’t convict me of things I have done wrong, the pain I have caused other people. I believe that the Spirit is willing to speak clearly to us and guide us in the ways God would have us go. That is oft times a wonderful journey, but sometimes a road of pain and difficulty.
My hope is that you will take time today to think about the place of the Holy Spirit in your life. Your experience might be vastly different than mine. You might have questions, so please ask. The offer of the Holy Spirit is given for our benefit, to be our link to God. The Spirit will wait patiently, until we open the path of conversation. It is however, a tremendous gift, one that we would all do well to accept from our most generous God.
THE REV. CANON KEITH NETHERY