Sunday 23rd May 2021 – Pentecost
Imagine my great disappointment. A large box awaited me when I arrived home sent by dear friends. I opened it quickly but much to my dismay it was full of flowers that appeared to be dead. What should I do? Should I put them in the compost heap or in a vase of water? I chose the latter. To my surprise they slowly came to life, lasted at least a week or more and brought much pleasure and delight. Recently this happened to my mother too. My younger brother told her in advance what to expect. We were able to share something of our own experience and even bewilderment. I now know that sending flowers in the post this way is not uncommon.
Today the Church celebrates the Feast of Pentecost marking fifty days since Easter Day bringing the Easter Season to an end. We recall how Pentecost (which comes from the Greek word for “fiftieth”) had its roots in the Jewish “Feast of Weeks”. We also recall how God’s Holy Spirit was given to the apostles after the ascension of Jesus, empowering them to begin the work of making followers of him, of guiding them, of inspiring them.
In today’s reading from Acts, we are reminded “when the day of Pentecost had come, the apostles were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of violent wind, and it filled the house where they were sitting”. What was happening?
As we look around the Church this morning we see the colour red. A bold, bright colour. It represents the tongues of fire appearing above the heads of the apostles as a sign that they had received the Holy Spirit. Some of us here I can see are wearing red. I am too, but mostly hidden.
If you visit Worcester College Chapel Choir, Oxford you will see a painting by Nicholas Mynheer (b.1958). In it he has captured the moment when flames of fire pouring down from heaven enter the mouths of the apostles. He has chosen their mouths rather than their heads, for it is from their mouths that the words of the gospel come. The apostles’ faces are turned upwards, eyes closed, as if in a rapture. Mynheer depicts the apostles as huddled together in a small space; for although we are often on our own, our Christian life is essentially life with others and for others.
The Spirit descends to live within us and to lift our hearts to God. So in Mynheer’s painting, the streams of fire are also the songs and praise of the chapel choir going heavenwards. It is only through the Spirit that prayer and praises rise.
But what about us? Where does the Holy Spirit fit in? Why do we often feel dry and spiritually withered like those flowers I mentioned at the beginning? Perhaps we need to turn to God and ask to be filled afresh on this and every day. As we do so, may we be filled with that new life and love. May his presence and power transform us and fill those empty spaces. And may something of that eternal life flow within us and out into the homes and communities in which we live.
Oh Holy Spirit, giver of life and light,
Impart to us thoughts higher than our own thoughts,
Prayers better than our own prayers,
Powers beyond our own powers,
That may spend and be spent in the ways of love and goodness,
After the perfect image of Jesus Christ our Lord.