The Day of Pentecost, 2020
A message from Archbishop Fred Hiltz to the Diocese of Moosonee
With joy I greet you, one and all, in the fellowship of The Holy Spirit whose coming we celebrate this festal day. In his account of that glorious coming St Luke is quite specific as to the occasion. It was The Day of Pentecost- a great Jewish festival known as the Feast of the Harvest, fifty days after the offering of the sheafs of barley at the beginning of Passover. Also known as the Feast of First Fruits it was a particularly holy day in which many of the faithful went to the temple to make thank offerings to the Lord.
By Luke’s accounting this day is the fiftieth after The Resurrection of Jesus. In the opening chapter of The Acts of The Apostles he speaks of the The Risen Lord presenting himself alive by many convincing proofs, appearing to many people over the course of forty days until the day he was taken up into heaven. Ten days later his promise of the Holy Spirit was fulfilled.
Luke writes of the event in such a way that one scene gives way to another quickly. In the first one the disciples are in the room where they had been gathered in prayer since the day of the Lord’s Acsension. In all the rest they are out in the streets.
I have always liked the way our friend Herbert O’Driscoll comments on what the disciples were doing in the room. “They are waiting for what they don’t know what. They wait essentially because Jesus told them to. They trust him. He said he would die. He did. He said he would rise. He did. He told them to wait and so they are”. In their waiting they are probably contemplating what Jesus meant by their being “clothed with power from on high”. What would that be like?
And then it happens. The room, indeed the entire house, is filled with the Spirit’s Coming. It is as if a great wind is blowing through the place and the heart of each one is set on fire for The Great Commission of The Risen Lord- to go out into the streets and into all the world proclaiming The Gospel. And out they go with a strength and confidence beyond their ability to even imagine!
Luke’s account of all that follows their spilling out into the streets is a grand festival of multiple languages, cultures and histories, each people hearing in their own tongue of the marvelous works of God. While most are rejoicing some are wondering what all this means. A few sneer and accuse the disciples of drunkenness.
And then we hear how Peter stands up and addresss everyone, recounting the story of salvation and speaking of God’s work in Christ to redeem the world. His was a gospel of salvation from sin and openness to new life. Some receive the message gladly and others argue it. Peter perseveres and his preaching wins the day. Some three thousand people are baptized and devote themselves to “the apostles teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers”. (Acts 2:42)
So begins Luke’s record of The Acts of The Apostles and how the believers worshipped, cared for one another and reached out to all in need. So begins the history of The Church.
The contrast between the disciples “in the room” and “out in the streets” is marked. In the room they are waiting for what they don’t know what. Out in the streets they are speaking with the power they had come to know, the power of the Holy Spirit. Once fearful they are now confident. Once timid they are now bold. Once tentative they are now zealous. “Clothed with that power from on high”(Luke24:49) of which Jesus had spoken they are on the move. As someone put it they are “going public” with The Gospel!
I find the image of “room and street “ particularly relevant. For in this time of global pandemic we are not able to inhabit the rooms we know and cherish. We find ourselves in other kinds of rooms, getting acquainted with new ways of being gathered in worship, of knowing our fellowship in Christ and getting on with our work in his name. Like the first disciples we await an outpouring of The Spirit to freshen and enable us in our witness to The Gospel in these challenging times.
We find ourselves out in the streets challenged by new ways of being The Church but energized by The Spirit. We are staying in touch virtually. We are especially mindful of those coping with illness, grief, worry over food security and financial security, and anxiety about the long term impacts of being isolated and socially distanced even within family life. We are out in the streets in new ways of caring for those who need a meal and some shelter from the heat of summer. I think of those who are sustaining food bank ministries and those who are preparing meals for pick-up by people who are homeless or destitute until their next cheque comes. In the care of the most vulnerable in society many people are hearing a language and seeing a compassion that speaks to their own way of embracing God’s presence in the world. They hear and see The Gospel of Jesus being lived out in beautiful ways.
On that day of Pentecost long ago Peter referenced the prophecy of Joel that God would pour out his Spirit on all flesh ....that young people would see visions and old people would dream dreams.(Acts 2:16-17) Perhaps this is a time when we ought to be reaching out for opportunities to hear the voices of the young and the elders in our midst.
From my days of Sunday School long ago I am remembering what was said of the Day of Pentecost in a book entitled, More Than Words.
“On this day the Church started to grow. It was possessed by a new life full of love and joy, power and hope. All shared the Spirit and were bound together by the Spirit’s influence”.
A fitting companion to this teaching is a hymn written by J.R.Peacey. It is a lovely prayer for this festal day...
Filled with the Spirit’s power, with one accord
the infant church confessed its risen Lord.
O Holy Spirit, in the church today
no less your power of fellowship display.
Now with the mind of Christ set us on fire,
that unity may be our great desire.
Give joy and peace; give faith to hear your call,
and readiness in each to work for all.
Widen our love, good Spirit, to embrace
in your strong care people of every race.
Like wind and fire with life among us move,
till we are known as Christ’s, and Christians prove.
Hymn 658, Common Praise