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Thought of the week

The Spirit of Pentecost

This Sunday we celebrate the gift of God’s Spirit to the Church.  We have two sources of information.  John, in his chapter 20, tells us it happened on same day as the day of resurrection, in the evening.  In his version of events, Jesus breathes on the disciples and they receive the Holy Spirit.  In so doing, he offers them peace, sends them out (for they were huddled together in fear) and gives them his authority to forgive sin.   So in John, the gift of the Spirit is very much linked with the resurrected Jesus.

But Luke has a different time-frame.  On the 40th day after Easter Jesus ascends to heaven.  On the 50th day, the Jewish festival of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit is given.  But in Luke the Spirit appears to come directly from God, not via Jesus.  Coming at the very beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, this serves as a dramatic curtain-raiser for Luke’s volume two; the proclamation of the Good News around the known world and the expansion of the Church.

In Acts the gift of the Spirit is really an earth-shaking experience.  Its power is shown by the fact that it sounded like a gale.  The disciples really had the cobwebs blown off them and their spirits lifted as they were driven out into the street by this powerful force.  At the same time it felt like being on fire.  Fire can work both ways, of course.  It can warm us, bend us, protect us; but it can hurt, it can burn.  The meaning here is positive; fire burns away all dross and rubbish and provides the energy the disciples need for their mission.

And suddenly, immediately, they became brilliant communicators. Luke is a bit unclear as to exactly what was happening here, how it was that people from the diaspora, Jews from all over the world, can all understand what the disciples were saying at the same time, as if each were hearing it in their own language.  But that was the result.

So we have two different ways of describing the Spirit-giving experience.  But they have one thing in common; the same starting point.  For both in John 20 and Acts 2 the disciples start out as a broken force, an introspective group licking their wounds, and clueless about what to do next.  After the Spirit experience, they are outward-looking and inspirational.

They suddenly knew the Gospel was going to turn the world upside down.  The Gospel was an international language.  They knew it would happen through them.  As we re-live their experience on Sunday, the Day of Pentecost, we know that now we are the ones through whom it will happen in our age.  Can we too be outward-looking and inspirational?


Michael Kingston

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