23rd May, 2010

Whitsunday

by The Rev. Fr. Ian Elliott Davies

Lections
Acts 2:1-21
Romans 8:14-17
St. John 14:8-17, 25-27

Many exceptionally confusing things are said about the Holy Spirit or the Holy Ghost as he is sometimes called in the Church. First and foremost the feast of Pentecost today is very much about environment.  It certainly ought to direct our attention to the environmental issues of the misuse of creation.  In the Pentecost refrain from Psalm 104, we hear the echo of that concern: “When thou lettest thy breath go forth, they shall be made; and thou shalt renew the face of the earth.”

Among those campaigning about green issues, the Church’s voice should be recognised as one that is not driven by economic self-interest, how much money can we make out of ‘green issues’ however tempting that may be: rather our perspective is about good ethical action, moral theology.  As someone recently pointed out, from a Christian perspective, the foremost casualty of environmental degradation is the human soul- we may wreak havoc with the eco-system, with the seas and skies and land- but we also damage ourselves, sometimes beyond words. Ecology is about ensuring that the souls and spirits of children can breathe, can grow and be inspired in this world, by the beauty of creation that breathes the Spirit, that always gestures us towards the heart of God.

In that environment on the first great Day of Pentecost no one is excluded – unlike other moments where only a few have witnessed God’s workings – here everyone is included – the range of languages that we hear about in Acts- that range includes pretty well everyone in the then known world – Pentecost is the most remarkable reversal of the story of the tower of Babel in Genesis where everything was thrown into a confusion of language, where human hubris finally o’er leaps itself and comes crashing down in confusion – but here, in this outpouring of the Holy Spirit everyone understands in their own tongue.

The transforming power of God’s Holy Spirit runs very deeply as it seeks to lead us into all truth – an image of journey and discovery comes to us as we hear those words from St John’s Gospel.

St John is less dramatic than the account in Acts. It is a good counter-balance to the effervescence and outward display of that other passage – and many of us are perhaps happier with the less demonstrative features of the Holy Spirit. But St John has powerful things too to say about this Advocate, this Holy Spirit.
This Spirit of Truth enables the Christian community to abide in Christ; the phrase is sometimes translated in older versions as “Comforter” – but this is not a cosey thing – apparently one of the scenes of the Bayeaux tapestry is of King William standing behind his troops and he’s prodding them with a sword – it says beneath- King William comforts his troops- “com- fortis, brings strength to”- the Holy Spirit the Comforter checks, prods, needles, cajoles and keeps the community up to the mark as the people of God as they are led through life. In some senses the Holy Spirit makes things harder rather than easier – the Spirit prevents the Church from falling into comfortable repetition.

St Maximus, the fifth-century Bishop of Turin, described what the Spirit hears in beautiful words: “Christ is the Son, to whom the Father has whispered the secret of his divinity.”

Account by St Giraldus Cambrensis.
Come, Holy Spirit, whisper of divinity, speak to us, and, through us, to the world.

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