Sunday, May 23, 2010

Pentecost 2010

Today we celebrate Pentecost, the day when the Holy Spirit entered the world. We call this day the birthday of the Church, for compelled by the Holy Spirit the Apostles went out preaching the good news of Jesus Christ, calling together a people, a Church. In many ways we can think of the coming of the Holy Spirit as the last chapter of the Bible. The great narrative that begins in the Garden of Eden, follows through the story of the people of Israel, finds its joy in the birth of Jesus, sees the cost of sin in the death of Jesus, finds its climax in the Resurrection on the third day, proceeds to the Ascension, finally seems to conclude with the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Bible does speak about the last day, the end of the world that is to come. However, it seems to me that the Holy Spirit is preparing the world for that last day even as we speak. So, it seems to me that the final chapter in the Biblical narrative is the work of the Holy Spirit alive in the Christian community, continuing to work even today, even now.

Throughout this narrative God appears to his people in many ways. Each of these can be called Theophanies. A theophany is an appearance of God in our space and time. There is the burning bush, where God spoke to Moses, told him his will to save his people from slavery. God appears to protect Israel as they escaped from Egypt as a pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night. God appeared to Elijah not in a great all powerful vision, but in the small whispering sound.

Of course, the greatest theophany is the incarnation itself. God appears to us in Jesus not in some terrifying guise; but as one like us in all things but sin. In the human face of Jesus Christ we see the divine. In the incarnation of Jesus we see the humility of God, in the preaching of Jesus we see the truth of God, in the death of Jesus we see the love of God, and in the resurrection of Jesus we see the promise of God: our own resurrection to follow. Jesus' life death, resurrection, and ascension are all theophanies, appearances of God which show to us his divine goodness.

Today we celebrate another theophany, when God appears to the early Church in tongues of fire. We today we remember that day when the Holy Spirit was sent into the world to continue the saving work of Jesus Christ, to continue to pour out the love of the Father into world. This is a great theophany, appearance of God in the world. In the narrative of the Bible, God never remains distant and aloof; rather, God is constantly coming to his people. In this last theophany, God not only comes to his people, but he remains here.

The mysterious thing about this theophany is that it is not over yet. The burning bush has cooled, the cloud of fire has dissipated, Jesus has ascended into heaven, but the Holy Spirit has yet to leave the Church. In fact, the Holy Spirit will never leave the Church. I think you can say that the Church itself, the united community of believers is itself proof of the manifestation of God. For, the Church is what happens when the Holy Spirit is sent into the world. We are assembled, called together, by the Spirit into the unity of the Church. This is why we call Pentecost the birthday of the Church. The theophany that we celebrate may have begun in that day when the Spirit descended upon the apostles but it continues to this day, for the Church is what happens when the Spirit is sent into the world.

St. Paul gives us an interesting insight into the working of the Holy Spirit. Paul says that those who are in the Spirit have the Spirit dwelling within them. And, later, he says that those who are led by the Spirit are sons of God. For Paul this is not metaphorical. He really believed that the Spirit lived within him and led him. The same should hold true for us. In our baptism and confirmation we received the gift of the Holy Spirit, we are called sons and daughters of God and we believe that His Spirit lives within us. Yet, are we always open to the Spirit's guidance, do we rely on his presence within us? I sometimes wonder if St. Paul could have fallen away from the faith after his great conversion experience… The answer is no, because he knew that the Spirit was living within him and he allowed himself to be led by the Spirit.

The point of all of this is that the great story of the Bible continues even now, the narrative continues in the Church, including each and every one of its members. When we follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit we continue the work of salvation, heading for that kingdom, which is the great and glorious finale of the story. Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of thy faithful, and lead us that Kingdom promised to us by Jesus Christ.

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