Sunday, May 24, 2015

Pentecost - what were they waiting for?

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

What were the disciples waiting for in the Upper Room, or Cenacle as it is properly known, on the day of Pentecost? Truthfully, I don't think they really knew. Christ had told them he would send the Holy Spirit – whom he called the Paraclete, which means Advocate, Councillor, and Comforter – but there's no indication that they understood what he had meant by that, any more than they had understood what he meant when he said that the Messiah must suffer and die and rise again. So we may see their actions that day, their quiet abiding in the Cenacle as one of faithful obedience. They did not know what to expect; but they did know they had been asked to do this by the One they had seen both rise from the dead and then ascend into heaven – returning, he told them, to the place he had come from.

But we know that what they were waiting for was one of the great moments in Salvation History. It might be good, at this point, to remind ourselves of what some of those other great moments were. The first is the promise of the Messiah, which is hinted at immediately after the Fall, where God tells the serpent, the devil, that there will be enmity between his offspring and that of Eve's, and that 'he shall strike at your head.' Many Church Fathers have seen in God's use of the word 'he' there – meaning a singular man – as being the first foretelling of the New Adam, Christ, who will defeat Satan and restore a right relationship between God and man. Even as he cares for their physical needs by providing them with clothes and the means to live, albeit now by the sweat of their brow rather than at their ease in the paradise they have lost by their own free will by chosing sin over obedience, so also he cares for their spiritual needs by the promise of a Saviour. That promise is, of course, made far more explicit elsewhere in the Old Testament. And we might see the time between that promise being made and the time of the New Testament as one extended moment, the time of preparation; the preparing of mankind for the time when that promise would be fulfilled.

The fulfilment of that promise began in the next great moment of Salvation History, the Incarnation, when during what is often called the Annunciation, the Blessed Virgin Mary said 'thy will be done' to God's request and she was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and the Christ child was conceived within her womb. Next is the Nativity, a moment so wondrous that the angels of heaven could not help but come down and sing for joy. And then, after his hidden years, our Lord begins his earthly ministry – which we might again consider an extended moment in our Salvation History, for the teaching of the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life – and our obedience to that teaching - is such an essential part of God's plan for our Salvation.

After that we have several moments in rapid succession: our Lord's Institution of the Holy Eucharist at the Last Supper, his suffering, crucifixion, and death, followed by his Resurrection – his dying for our sins and his rising from the dead to destroy the power of death being of almost inexpressible importance to the salvation of us all. After Christ's Resurrection we have the 40 days of his appearances to his followers until his Ascension, his return to the Father to sit at his right hand in heaven. And in many ways we may hold that the Ascension and Pentecost are inextricably linked, given that Jesus said that it was necessary that he send the Holy Spirit to us, but that it was something that he could not do until he had ascended to the Father. So the Ascension not only stands alone, as a moment by itself, it also serves as the guarantee of the next moment, Pentecost itself.

And that moment came like a bomb-shell, like a spiritual hand-grenade going off in that upper room. Tongues of fire hovering over the heads of those present, a sound like that of a rushing wind, speaking in other languages – not babbling, mark you, but the named and recognisable languages of those present - crowds gathering in the street to wonder both at the noise and the sudden ability of these people to speak in foreign tongues. And the spilling forth from the Cenacle, like a wave of living water, of the disciples who were now filled with the Holy Spirit, people who until he descended upon them were still afraid despite their faith in the Risen Lord now boldly going forth to preach the good news of Jesus Christ.

This sudden outpouring from the Cenacle should not surprise us. The day of Pentecost is often called the birth of the Church; but it might equally be called the beginning of another long moment of the Salvation History of the world – the time of Evangelisation, the time when the followers of Christ must carry out his Great Commission of making disciples of all nations and baptising them in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. That is the moment that we now find ourselves in, a time powered by that outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the Cenacle that day, an outpouring that continues down to this very moment, and will continue until that last important moment of Salvation History, the Parousia, the second coming of Christ, that great and terrible day when he will come to judge the living and the dead, a day which Jesus spoke of in Matthew 25, in the parable of the sheep and the goats, where those who have not lived out his teachings 'will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.'

But look at how much God has done in order that we should be with him in the place he created us to be, which is with him in heaven; and look at how every moment in the Salvation History we have reminded ourselves of this day has been at his gracious initiative. He wants us to be saved, and he acts that all may be saved. This day as we celebrate that wondrous first day of Pentecost, I pray that you will open your hearts to be filled with God's Holy Spirit that you may be at the last saved, even as I pray that you will strive daily for the salvation of others as well as yourselves, in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen

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