The Gift of the Holy Spirit

Pentecost Sunday, 5 June 2022

Pentecost is a special feast, when the Third Person of the Trinity was given to the Church.  The disciples felt abandoned, but truly we are not abandoned: Christ is in our midst by the power and Person of the Holy Spirit.  We’re not alone: God is with us, and His presence is among us.

I’ve been a Christian more than forty years, and I would say the secret is walking with God, and being filled with and led by the Holy Spirit.

Do not be afraid

The disciples were excited about Jesus rising from the dead; but at the Ascension, when He was leaving, they felt abandoned.  As humans we feel this way at times.  Jesus said, 

“Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not… be afraid”.[1]  

It’s your responsibility not to let fear enter your life.  There are many reasons for fear, as we’ve seen from the pandemic, the war, and the possibility of recession.  We can choose not to be afraid, but we need a foundation of understanding why we don’t have to be afraid or troubled.  The reason is that God is with us.  

We need to be reminded that God is bigger than the problems we encounter.  Often we think the problem is as big as a mountain; but God is greater.  Jesus gave His disciples infallible proofs, for them to become a witness that the world also doesn’t need to be afraid or troubled if they trust in God.  

God loves the world

Jesus loved and died not only for His disciples but for every one of us.  The crucifixion, death, and resurrection of God’s Son made no sense to His disciples, those who saw what happened, or the world.  The Gospel is foolishness to many,[2] but the reason Jesus died on the cross was that God loved the world.[3]  Even if you don’t understand, even if you thought you didn’t need His crucifixion, He did it for you because He loved you.

His disciples had to share this with the world.  The resurrection established the undeniable truth that God is alive; we believe the Apostles’ witness.  If God is alive, we are alive; if He’s dead, we’re dead.  There’s no hope if God is dead.

God is with us

It’s difficult to understand that when Jesus went up to heaven and sat at the right hand of the Father, He said: 

“I will be with you even to the end of the age”.  

How can Jesus be in heaven and on earth at the same time?  How can you be in the Philippines and Europe at the same time?  For us it’s unreasonable.  But God’s throne is in heaven and His footstool is on earth.  God is both in heaven and on earth; He’s alive in the Church, and He is with us.  

Sometimes people say, “I really felt God in the Mass”; and others say, “I did not feel God”.  However, because of His promise, we don’t have to be troubled or afraid, whatever comes our way.  We may not know the future, but God holds the future.

In John 14:15-17, Jesus said,

“If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.  And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper… even the Spirit of truth.”[4]

Saying we love God does not prove that we truly love Him, but the real test is our obedience to God.  No matter how many times we say we love God, if we don’t obey, it means nothing.  The modern mind has reduced love to a generalized feeling, but our Lord declares it to be obedience.  Our obedience is not blind obedience, but obedience compelled by love.

Jesus says, 

“I will not leave you as orphans”.[5] 

I’ve been an orphan a long time: my father died when I was ten years old, and my mother nine years later.  The disciples felt they would be orphans.  But Jesus said, 

“I will give you another Advocate, and He will be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth.”

He sent them the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity.  An orphan is alone and bereaved; this word is often rendered as “fatherless”.  It’s difficult to lose a father, and God has a special affinity to children who have lost their fathers.  

Jesus said,

“I will not leave you comfortless; I will come to you”.[6]   

The word, “comfort” has nothing to do with “comfort rooms”, nor does the Holy Spirit sing a lullaby to us; a better translation might be “strengthen”.  The Holy Spirit strengthens those who feel as if they are orphans, or who feel abandoned.  He strengthens us so that when we leave after the Eucharist we can be a witness to God’s power, strength, and love. 

The harvest of Christ’s resurrection

Pentecost, or the Feast of Weeks, is one of Israel’s major festivals, a harvest festival.  Its original significance has been overshadowed by the Christian celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus said, 

“Very truly… unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain”[7]

Looking at Pentecost in the context of the Resurrection, Jesus died like a grain; then it sprouted, and then came the Church: we are the harvest of Christ’s resurrection.

The reversal of Babel

Another meaning is linked to the Tower of Babel.  Humans in their pride attempted to build a tower and a city, and God responded by confusing their language and scattering them.  In Pentecost is the reversal: God gave them a new language and united His people.  Those who received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost spoke the same language.  Often we don’t understand one another’s language, but God gave us the language of love, and also the gift of speaking in tongues.

God’s invisible presence

While Christ’s visible presence departed from His disciples and from us all, those who love Him, His faithful followers, see the invisible presence of God.  Jesus’ visible presence would no longer be seen after the Ascension, but would be replaced by His invisible presence.  This was His parting word to His disciples and His promise to us: 

“I am with you always, even to the end of the age”.[8]  

God is always here, and we don’t leave Him behind – He goes with us when we leave after the Mass; but His presence is much more pronounced when His people gather together.  God is not dead but alive, and He wants to do something in your life: He wants to bring healing; those who are weak He wants to strengthen; for those who are confused He wants to bring a sense of direction.  We go to church because we need God, and He wants to do a work in your life.  Each time you go to church, expect God to move in your life.  We don’t go to fulfil our religious obligation, but to meet God: He wants to do in your life more than you and I can imagine.

If we are not aware of His strengthening presence, it may be that although we’re at church physically, we’re not present in spirit – we need to be careful.  Perhaps we choose not to know His presence because we want it to be on our own terms.  

It’s good to feel God, but there are times when we don’t see Him.  However He promised to be with us.

The foundation of our hope

Psalm 11:4 says, 

“The Lord is in His holy temple; the Lord’s throne is in heaven”;[9]

and Isaiah 66:1,

“Thus says the Lord: ‘Heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool;.  what is the house you would build for Me, and what is My resting place?’”[10]

God sits on the throne, He is King, and He owns heaven and earth.  Fr. Patrick Reardon says that knowing and understanding who God is, what He has accomplished, and where He is – of which we’re reminded every Sunday – is the source of our stability and the foundation of our hope.  Even when the earth moves and totters, we know God is in control; this is the foundation of our hope and the stability of our faith:  

“If there is any firmness for our lives, any steadfastness for our souls, the cause of such constancy is the immovable throne of Christ our God.”[11]

Jesus ascended on high and gave us the Holy Spirit, and now opens a new era: the work of the Holy Spirit.

Prayer for the Church

Gracious Father, we pray for Your holy Catholic Church. Fill it with all truth, in all truth with all peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in anything it is amiss, reform it. Where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of Jesus Christ Your Son our Saviour. Amen.[12]

The Church needs this prayer.  The Church sometimes becomes corrupt because it is composed of people: the Church is not filled with saints, but with sinners.

The Holy Spirit renews us

Psalm 104:30 says,

“When You send forth Your Spirit, they are created, and You renew the face of the earth.”[13]

If you study Scripture carefully, at the creation,[14] the flood,[15] the opening of the Red Sea,[16] and the valley of dry bones, [17] the Holy Spirit is present; and then comes Pentecost.  You see the Holy Spirit moving in history and in the Church.  The Holy Spirit is not dead but alive.

Sometimes to be a Christian isn’t easy.  Sometimes when we have questions in life we question God and ask, “God where are You?”  We need a renewal of our faith.  When we’re down and out, we need God’s presence.  His word to us today is “renew”.  May God renew us all.

Lord, we celebrate Your gift of Your Holy Spirit today.  In the world there is confusion, but You gather us together and give us one language.  I pray for those who are tired, that You would give them new strength; for those who have lost hope to be filled with hope again; for those whose faith has been dwindling or struggling, that You would renew their faith, in Jesus’ name; for those who are fearful, I pray for Your courage and strength, in Jesus’ name; for those who don’t know where to go, lead and guide them; for those who are struggling financially, that You would give them a respite, a time of Jubilee in which finances will flow and we can honour and thank You for Your blessing upon our lives.  

As we go through the pandemic, the war, and the looming recession, we as the Church pray that we would be renewed, in Jesus’ name.  Lord, let our faith be strengthened to believe in Your invisible presence by Your Holy Spirit in our midst, and that we will always see You on the throne.

If this applies to you or your family, simply receive God’s blessing: acknowledge your need to Him, and thank Him for His blessing in your life.  If you’re struggling with something in your faith, God wants to renew, touch, and strengthen you.

Study questions

1) What leads to your feeling troubled or afraid?  How does Jesus’ promise help you to face and overcome this?

2) Do you love Jesus, according to His definition?

3) Are you generally aware of God’s presence during the Mass, and at other times, and in what ways?  Do you believe He is present even when you don’t feel or “see” Him?  How important are each of these factors in knowing He is present and He is with you?

4) Do you believe God is alive?  Do you expect to encounter Him when you go to church?  Why do you go to church?

5) In what ways is God in heaven and on earth at the same time?  Why is this important for us?  Is your hope and stability based on His rule or on something else?

6) Read the Scriptures listed in notes 15 and 16.  In what ways was the Holy Spirit active at the flood and the crossing of the sea?  How does this illuminate His work in the Church, the world, and your life?

7) The Church Fathers regarded these events as symbolizing Baptism.  How do these passages affect your view of Baptism and the role of the Holy Spirit?

8) What kind of renewal from the Holy Spirit is needed in your life, your family, and the church to which you belong?   

[1] John 14:27  

[2] I Corinthians 1:18-25

[3] John 3:16

[4] John 14:15-17, ESV

[5] John 14:18, ESV

[6] John 14:19, KJV

[7] John 12:24, NRSV  

[8] Matthew 28:20, NKJV

[9] Psalm 11:4, NRSV

[10] Isaiah 66:1, NRSV

[11] Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon, Christ in the Psalms (Conciliar Press, 2000)                 

[12] Book of Common Prayer (1979), p.816

[13] Psalm 104:30, NKJV

[14] Genesis 1:1-2

[15] Genesis 6:3, 8:1, 6-11

[16] Exodus 13:21-22, 14:19-28, 15:8-10

The Hebrew word translated “Spirit” also means “wind” or “breath”

[17] Ezekiel 37:1-14

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