Thought for the month
Long before the disciples started speaking in tongues, Pentecost was a Jewish feast, celebrating the wheat harvest and the offering to God of the fruits of that harvest. At the feast of Pentecost we read about in Acts 2 people would have come from far and wide, and there would have been an festive atmosphere with plenty of new wine. Which explains why the crowd were speaking so many different languages and why others might think the disciples were drunk.
It’s into this excited and joyful gathering that the Holy Spirit descends with vivid tongues of flame and roaring wind. The Holy Spirit has the power to change once-timid disciples, enabling them to speak in languages not their own, and filling them with joy and excitement, so that people from all over the world hear the Good News spoken in their own languages.
It might be hard for us to identify with the experience of those early disciples, and hard to imagine the crowds, the celebrations, the fire and wind, the preaching in many languages and lives changed so dramatically. It might be easier for us to identify with the disciples sitting with Jesus in a quiet room somewhere while he talks to them, a small group, about the Spirit that he promised would be sent by his Father after he had gone to be with him in heaven.
About that Spirit being an advocate – the “Spirit of truth” who will teach the disciples about the ways of God and remind them of the words Jesus spoke while he was with them. About that Spirit being the “helper”, who supports us, helps us and gives us the energy and strength we need to live in accordance with God’s will for us. About that Spirit being a “Comforter”, bringing God’s comfort and support within our very selves, so that somehow we are held through dark times.
What Jesus is saying about the Holy Spirit is that this is how he himself will remain with his present and future disciples always. This is how God will always stand alongside and within us, teaching us how to stand alongside God, living as he wants us to live. And the Pentecost story is an encouraging reminder of the promises of Jesus to those disciples, and to us, that we will not be left alone, God will not abandon us but will come to us in a new way and make his home within us for ever.
Much condensed from a post by Katharine Smith at this link.
Today is Ascension Day, and Christians everywhere will be hearing about the event that Luke wrote about twice, first at the end of his Gospel and again at the beginning of Acts – of Jesus being taken up into heaven. The Acts account is fuller, as Luke is setting out to tell the story of the growth of the early church, and he includes the words of Christ immediately before he ascends into heaven: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) In the sermon that’s linked to this post, Phil Magee explores the thought that the transition that takes place at the Ascension is a launching pad for future witness.
But, while they were waiting in anticipation for the power that would enable them to carry out Christ’s commission, what were the disciples doing? They were meeting together to pray! Their example has been followed by Christians through the centuries who have gathered at that time to pray for the coming of the Holy Spirit. The ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ initiative picks up this tradition, and over the past three years more and more worshipping communities have dedicated the days between Ascension and Pentecost to pray – this year churches from over 65 different denominations in 114 countries around the world are inviting Christians to pray for more people to come to know Jesus.
Archbishop Justin Welby put his invitation this way: “Jesus prayed at the Last Supper that we, those who follow him, might ‘be one, that the world might believe’. We are invited to make a lasting difference in our nations and in our world, by responding to his call to find a deep unity of purpose in prayer.”
It’s not complicated – the invitation is simply for Christians to commit to pray – as a church, individually, or as a family – in whatever way they want, and wherever they can, so that others might know Jesus Christ. Many of the resources are web-based, and we encourage you to explore what’s available and to register at https://www.thykingdomcome.global. For example, you can download the official ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ App which has free daily Bible readings, video reflections and podcasts from world-renowned theologian, Tom Wright.
Last Tuesday morning (16 April) we woke up to the fresh realisation that Notre Dame, the vast Gothic cathedral at the heart of Paris and at the heart of France, and which had survived both revolution and occupation, had been grievously damaged by fire the previous night. At one point it had even seemed that everything would be lost – thankfully it was later reported that the cathedral structure had survived the fire, though it had come within 30 minutes of not doing so.
In her Radio 4 “Thought for the Day” that morning, Rev Lucy Winkett reflected on our sadness at losing such tangible links with our past, and at the changes in the world since Notre Dame had been completed, quoting Heine’s words: “People in those old times had convictions; we moderns only have opinions. And it needs more than a mere opinion to erect a Gothic cathedral.”
Her talk (still available at this link) ended with the words: “When the medieval St Paul’s Cathedral in London was burned down in the 17th century, the architect commissioned to rebuild it, Christopher Wren, sifted through the rubble and found a large stone from the old cathedral with a word already carved on it. He picked it up in front of the assembled workmen and placed it on the ground as the cornerstone of the new cathedral. On it was carved the Latin word Resurgam; I shall rise again.”
That was last Tuesday; today is Easter Day; and “Resurgam” is once more a good way to start, as we reflect on the ongoing story of the One who overcame death and is alive for evermore, and as we look forward to Notre Dame rising from the ashes, and reaching towards the heavens with a new spire – whether it’s a replica of the old, or a design for the 21st century!