Sunday, 4 June 2017

Pentecost 2017

Today Christians remember and celebrate how Jesus' promise to his disciples was fulfilled, that they would receive power to be his witnesses when the Holy Spirit came upon them.

And they did. And they were blown out of their privacy onto the streets to take the message of Jesus to festival goers in Jerusalem and eventually, through them, to all the world.

Here is the start of the Day of Pentecost story from Acts 2, the momentous occasion that gave birth to the Christian church in Jerusalem 2000 years ago.

"When the day of Pentecost had come, they 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." (Acts 2: 1 - 4 NRSV)

The problem for Christians hearing or reading a story like that 
can be that we freeze-frame it. It's easy unconsciously to box it in to a particular time and place and so not see how that story connects with our own stories. We can fail to see that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is for all and for now as well as then. We can fail to recognize the Spirit at work in our lives and world today. We can keep the story only as a memorial of the past, safely contained within the pages of the Bible or portrayed in works of art to be admired. We humans like to be in control, know where the boundaries are. We even, in our pride, live as if we can control God, keep God within the 4 walls of a church or constrain him/her in theological systems or beautifully crafted liturgy. 

Though we can shape our own ideas about God the Holy Spirit, there is no way that we can constrain and control the mysterious reality. We confine the Holy Spirit of God to a stained glass window, a box or cage of our own creating, even a 'holy' or religious cage. Foolishly, but often unconsciously, we can try. But meanwhile:
"She dances in fire, startling her spectators, 
waking tongues of ecstasy where dumbness reigned; 
she weans and inspires all whose hearts are open, 
nor can she be captured, silenced or restrained."
From the hymn, "She sits like a bird, brooding on the waters,"
by John Bell and Graham Maule

We can pray, 'come, Holy Spirit' and be confident that prayer will be answered, but it may not be in the way we might choose. S/he may blow us out of our boxes, our comfort zones, bring changes and who knows what surprises. 

We cannot confine and domesticate the Holy Spirit any more than we can control the wind, a forest fire or a torrent of water. But we can celebrate the 'freedom and release' that the Spirit brings. Malcolm Guite has written a sonnet for Pentecost as a result of his reflections on the Pentecost readings and drawing on ideas about the 4 elements of fire, air, water and earth. I love this sonnet. You can hear listen to his own reading of it in 'Our Mother-tongue is love: a Sonnet for Pentecost' as well as read it for yourself here:

PENTECOST

Today we feel the wind beneath our wings
Today the hidden fountain flows and plays
Today the church draws breath at last and sings
As every flame becomes a Tongue of praise.
This is the feast of fire,air, and water
Poured out and breathed and kindled into earth.
The earth herself awakens to her maker
And is translated out of death to birth.
The right words come today in their right order
And every word spells freedom and release
Today the gospel crosses every border
All tongues are loosened by the Prince of Peace
Today the lost are found in His translation.
Whose mother-tongue is Love, in every nation.
Malcolm Guite, from his book 'Sounding the Seasons'



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