Pentecost: the feast of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Holy Trinity. It falls on the fiftieth day after Easter – hence its name. It also falls on the Jewish Festival of Weeks, which is a harvest festival celebrating the first fruits of the season.
The story is familiar to us; bereft after Jesus’ Ascension, the disciples are together, maybe waiting to see what would happen next. Jesus had promised to send ‘another helper’, but they had no idea who this would be, or how this help might make itself known to them. You can half hear their conversation: ‘what should we do now – just sit here waiting?’: Yes, that’s’ what he told us to do – to go to Jerusalem and wait’: ‘But who or what are we waiting for, and how will we recognise it?’, ‘I’m sure we’ll know, even though we don’t know what to expect – we have to have faith’. And so on.
Then suddenly, the house was filled with gale force winds, and fire came raining down on them. There was no doubt – the helper had arrived. Then they were out on the street, making so much noise people thought they were drunken louts. They shouted out the good news in different languages, fearlessly and exuberant. This single moment transformed everything for the disciples: the rest of the lives of these people was spent spreading the Good News over Europe, the Middle East, India and Africa. By the end of the 1st Century Christianity arrived here in Britain.
This was a huge undertaking – cars and aeroplanes, maps and satnavs weren’t options then. These first Pentecost people struggled on foot, in ships, maybe on camels or donkeys to take their message to remote and unknown places. There were trade routes to follow, but the journey was still into the unknown for the disciples who had lived their lives within a specific geographical area. They must have said goodbye to friends and family and disappeared into the unknown, some of them never to return. Many of them died for their faith. Without the Spirit exploding into the lives of those present on that day we would not be here, so we owe them a debt of gratitude.
This outward explosion of energy grew from sudden inner change. Had the disciples not changed from within, they could not have undertaken their outward journeys of great courage and determination. This is easy to miss, as it’s not so visible. The disciples (and I’m talking about a large group of women and men, not just The Twelve) had been slowly changed by their friendship with Jesus – by his teaching, his friendship, his example, his miracles, his death and his resurrection. This must have been very demanding on them, and we know that they had wobbles along the way. Pentecost meant more inner change – it was as if, what they had learned so far was lit up from within, given new energy and purpose.
Rev’d Dr Anne Morris
Vicar of St. Oswald’s Church, Knuzden