Today our world is experiencing a tragic famine of hope. How much pain is all around us, how much emptiness, how much inconsolable grief. Let us, then, become messengers of the comfort bestowed by the Holy Spirit. Let us radiate hope, and the Lord will open new paths as we journey towards the future. 

Pope Francis Pentecost 2020

When Pentecost day came round, they had all met in one room, when suddenly they heard what sounded like a powerful wind from heaven, the noise of which filled the entire house in which they were sitting; and something appeared to them that seemed like tongues of fire; these separated and came to rest on the head of each of them.  They were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak foreign languages as the Spirit gave them the gift of speech.

(Acts 2, 1-4)

Jesus came and stood among them. He said to them, 'Peace be with you', and showed them his hands and his side. The disciples were filled with joy when they saw the Lord, and he said to them again, 'Peace be with you.'

As the Father sent me, so am I sending you. After saying this, he breathed on them and said,' Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain,

they are retained. 

(John 20, 19-23)

There is a variety of gifts, but always the same Spirit; there are all sorts of service to be done, but always to the same Lord; working in all sorts of different ways in different people, it is the same God who is working in all of them. The particular way in which the Spirit is given to each person is for a good purpose.

(I Corinthians, 12;3-7)

While we reflect today on the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the primitive Church, the apostles, gathered in that room with Mary, we are also encouraged to reflect on our own participation in the mission and ministry of the Church, precisely through our sharing in the gift and empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Paul's Letter to the Corinthians makes it very clear that the Lord needs "all sorts of service to be done". We are also reminded that "the Spirit is given to each person". We can cast our eyes up into that dome in San Marco and think back on the very different ways in which each of those recipients of the Spirit made the most of the potential entrusted to them. 

We can think back to the account in Acts where we are told that virtually immediately, the Apostles break out of their confinement in fear and preach boldly.

There are various ways of understanding the 'gift of tongues'. Paul is very clear: gifts are given to be used for the service of God, and not for any self gratification. People from all sorts of backgrounds understand the Good News. People always understand kindness, care, forgiveness, sympathy, and indeed, the comfort and hope that Pope Francis wants to be the evidence of this Pentecost. 

Veni, Sancte Spiritus!  Come. Holy Spirit!

“Pentecost Villanellette”  

 

Not as a dove the Holy Spirit came
to the disciples gathered in a room,
but as a violent wind and tongues of flame.

 

A cyclone roared the ineffable name
as fire on each blushing brow did bloom.
Not as a dove the Holy Spirit came

to give sight to the blind and heal the lame
and raise the dead and dispel error’s gloom,
but as a violent wind and tongues of flame.

 

The Breath of God is anything but tame.
Who dally with it dally with their doom.
Not as a dove the Holy Spirit came,
but as a violent wind and tongues of flame.

Mark DeBolt

The gift of the Spirit is described differently in the Acts of the Apostles and John's Gospel. What is certain, is that it was the clear, stated intention of Jesus that he would send the Holy Spirit to remind them of the entirety of his teaching and to give them the courage and the skills necessary for preaching the Good News. There is no contradiction between the two scripture narratives. The coming of the Holy Spirit like a wind from heaven and appearing like tongues of fire is that powerful experience of the apostles gathered with Mary in that moment of intense prayerful preparation for mission and ministry. In the same way that the disciples needed repeated evidence of the Resurrection, this coming of the Spirit on the feast of Pentecost was that conclusive reinforcement of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in the Church. 

In the calm of the 'shalom' bequeathed by the Risen Lord, there is then the articulation of the mission that Jesus gives to the disciples. Interestingly, there is a seeming repetition: As the Father sent me, so am I sending you.' In fact, the words are quite different in John's Greek. Of himself, Jesus says, 'As the Father has sent me out - the verb, apostello (ἀποστέλλω). However, the second verb, 'so I am sending you', is quite another word: (πέμπω) pempo which means to commission or appoint. In other words, Jesus connects his mission from the Father with this solemn appointment of the apostles as anointed ministers. The very first hint as to the nature of this special task of the apostles is in the words that immediately follow: the power to forgive sin. The disciples are to be agents of reconciliation, forgiveness, bringing that 'shalom' to the burdened lives of others.

The Descent of the Holy Spirit, 12th century mosaic in the Basilica of San Marco in Venice.

Pentecost

Today we feel the wind beneath our wings
Today  the hidden fountain flows and plays
Today the church draws breath at last and sings
As every flame becomes a Tongue of praise.
This is the feast of fire, air, and water
Poured out and breathed and kindled into earth.
The earth herself awakens to her maker
And is translated out of death to birth.
The right words come today in their right order
And every word spells freedom and release
Today the gospel crosses every border
All tongues are loosened by the Prince of Peace
Today the lost are found in His translation.
Whose mother-tongue is Love, in  every nation.

Rev. Dr. Malcolm Guite,

Sounding the Seasons,

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