A reflection for Pentecost by the Rev'd David Warnes

Today’s readings seem to offer two very different accounts of the gift of the Holy Spirit – the moment in St John’s Gospel when Jesus breathes on his disciples and the dramatic experience of Pentecost, the rushing, mighty wind, the tongues of fire and the great outburst of energy and enthusiasm which impelled the disciples to go out and tell as many people as possible the good news of Jesus Christ.

Why two accounts? I don’t think that they are contradictory. A careful reading suggests that they are part of a process. They are also, I think complementary.

First the process. St John writes of a very quiet and private moment shared by Jesus and the disciples.  The emphasis is on forgiveness. The disciples are given a share of God’s energy so that they may be a community experiencing, sharing and offering forgiveness.

The second part of the process happened at Pentecost and turned into a very public occasion. Pentecost or Shavuot, fifty days after Passover, was one of the great Jewish pilgrimage festivals, a time to come to Jerusalem and visit the Temple. It was a harvest festival, a celebration of the first wheat harvest of the year, but also a celebration of God’s gift of the Torah – the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, including the laws which are the Jewish people’s response to God’s covenant. The dramatic descent of the Holy Spirit empowers the disciples to proclaim the good news of God’s love and forgiveness.

That process, that move from forgiveness into proclamation is every bit as important today as it was two thousand years ago. Our contemporary culture is very strong on proclamation, on the assertion of beliefs, ideas and prejudices, and much of that proclamation is completely devoid of forgiveness. Just spend five minutes scrolling through Twitter to see the truth of that. And that isn’t just a contemporary problem. There have been times in the history of the Church when the assertion of doctrine became separated from the imperatives of love and forgiveness, and terrible cruelties ensued. Our two accounts of the giving of the Holy Spirit are a powerful reminder of to fulfil our calling to proclaim the forgiving love of God we need to be a community of forgiveness and love..

So much for the process. What about the complementarity of the two accounts of the giving of the Holy Spirit? If, like me, you have never experienced anything as dramatic as the rushing mighty wind and the tongues of fire described in Acts you might be tempted to question whether the Holy Spirit is working through you unless you had also read that very different account in John’s Gospel. Given these two accounts there is something for all of us, whatever the nature of our religious experiences, whether they have been sudden and dramatic or a quiet and private experience which gradually unfolds and develops.

Today, in a happy circumstance, our celebration of Pentecost is also the celebration of a baptism. The birthday of the Church, as some have called Pentecost, is also the moment of welcoming a new member into the church, giving Lochlan a second birthday which I hope he will celebrate as he comes to understand its meanings. All babies and toddlers are bundles of wonderful potential and baptism adds important dimensions to that potential. Those dimensions are explained in today’s reading from First Corinthians in which St Paul lists the gifts of the Holy Spirit and emphasises that they are given for the common good.

It is such a familiar passage that you may not have noticed the surprising fact that one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit that Paul mentions is the gift of faith or belief. But surely, you ask, all Christians have faith, all Christians are believers? Well, yes but in different measure. Those who are strongest in faith are not necessarily the most active members of the Church but are as essential to its life as those whose contributions are more evident but who may, like most of us, experience doubt. The Church is a community of the gifted and the gifts are varied and vital.

Time will tell which gifts are bestowed on Lochlan but today he finds his place in the Church, that inclusive community which has received the loving forgiveness of God, which practises it and proclaims it to the world.

“For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.”