Monday, May 14, 2018


Pentecost -- Titian
The Day of Pentecost was a celebration of the first fruits of the harvest, observed fifty days after the Passover as one of the traditional festivals of the Jewish religious year. Luke tells us that this was the day on which the disciples found themselves so filled with a ‘Holy’ Spirit that, even though the Risen Christ no longer appeared to them, they were brought back into the full presence of God. Because of this, ‘Pentecost’ became an important Christian festival also, and the passage from Acts that recounts this event is always read on this Sunday, fifty days after Easter.

But thereafter the Lectionary gives us a choice. We can read it in conjunction with a lesson from the Old Testament, and thereby look back to the long salvation history of which it is the fulfillment. Confronted with a whole valley of dry bones, the LORD asks Ezekiel, 'Can these bones live?', and in one of the most dramatic images in Scripture, God's 'breath' gradually brings spirit to matter and gives them life again. Alternatively, the story from Acts can be read in conjunction with the Epistle to the Romans where Paul, steeped in that same theological history, reflects on what ‘the Spirit’ means and how it works in us.

Vision of Ezekiel - David Bomberg (1912)
Both contexts underline something central, that the coming of the Holy Spirit -- in the Apostles’ lives, in the lives of those they converted, and in our own lives -- is not a once and for all spiritual experience complete in itself. Rather it is the often faltering beginning of a process of spiritual growth. As the first disciples discovered, no emotional experience, however powerful, can eliminate the continual need to deepen our understanding of God’s Incarnation and our salvation through the Cross.

This explains why, in the Gospel, Jesus says to his disciples “it is to your advantage that I go away. . . I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own”. Pentecost, it often said, marks the birth of the Church. This makes it an occasion of special celebration because the Church is ‘the Body of Christ’, a community that unites across the centuries all those who have been enlivened by the Holy Spirit. And, despite all its manifest failings, the Church is thus enabled and empowered to go on guiding us in the Truth about God.

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