The Vicar writes...
Early this month we will be celebrating the Feast of Pentecost - Whitsunday - the birthday of the Church. It’s when we remember the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the apostles who had gathered together in Jerusalem.
St Matthew’s Gospel ends with the account of the ascension of the risen Lord into heaven and his promise to ‘be with us always to the close of the age.’ The Book of Acts, which tells the story of how the Church was born, recalls how the followers of Jesus were an expectant community. They had been through so much together during the three years of our Lord’s ministry. They had listened to his revolutionary preaching and witnessed miraculous things. Though they had come to know him as the Messiah they were devastated by his arrest, his death by crucifixion, and were totally unprepared for the mystery and reality of the resurrection. They had witnessed Jesus’ ascension and were waiting on his promise that he would not leave them as orphans but would send the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, to help and defend them.
As they waited for the promised power from on high they must have been unnerved by the thought of the mission that lay ahead of them. Jesus had given them the commission, ‘Go out into the world and make disciples of all nations’ - quite an undertaking for so few! Their experience of Holy Week and Easter had reminded them of their own weaknesses and of the powerful forces that would work against them.
Then, on the day of Pentecost, any misgivings they had were swept away by what can only be described as a force of hurricane strength. We read of how the Holy Spirit took possession of them and filled them with renewed faith, new courage and fresh purpose. The sound of ‘the mighty wind’ and the sight of ‘flames alighting on the apostles’ were the outward signs of God’s working in their hearts and minds.
Transfigured by the gift of the Holy Spirit the disciples went out and, to their own and everyone else’s amazement, were able to communicate the good news they had to tell in a way that broke through the human barriers of race, creed and nationality. The cry went out from all those who were touched by the Spirit that day, ‘We hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.’ The Feast of Pentecost celebrates how Christ’s message of love, salvation and peace is truly universal. It is ‘love in any language and it reverses the disharmony of Babel.
The age old story of the Tower of Babel [Genesis 11] is probably older than Judaism itself. It has its roots in the myths of the ancient world and was told to account for the many things that despoil and divide human life on earth. Like the citizens of ancient Babel we are tempted to play at being god. Human beings often use our cultural, religious and racial diversity to commit unspeakable and cruel acts on those who are different to us. We see the consequence of Babel in human history; in the tyranny of Rome, the barbarism of the crusades, the holocaust of the last war and the horror of ethnic cleansing and global terrorism in our own day. As at Babel, we no longer speak the same language.
Into all this sweeps Pentecost. It reminds us that the way of love and at-one-ment we see in Christ is hope indeed for our broken world. It also challenges us to go out and speak ‘love in any language’ as members of his body on earth.
As we celebrate Whitsunday the conflicts in the Ukraine, Syria and the wider Middle East, South Sudan and Nigeria will be very much in our thoughts and prayers. We will remember those who fear for their loved ones or for their own safety in these places, simply because they are different. The words of Fred Kaan’s modern hymn can be our prayer for them and for the world as we reflect on the coming of the Holy Spirit;
Teach us, good Lord, to serve the needs of others,
help us to give and not to count the cost.
Unite us all, as sisters and as brothers,
defeat our Babel with your Pentecost.
With my good wishes,