Pentecost in the Christian Story
The Day of Pentecost
June 8, 2014
Church of the Epiphany, Summerville
I Corinthians 12:3b-13
This morning, please imagine with me that the whole Christian story is found in one book. And this book has four chapters in it. I want us to imagine this so that we can understand something about the significance of this day – the Day of Pentecost.
The first chapter of the book sets the stage for all the rest. That is, the Christian story begins with the Old Testament – the work of God in creation, and in the formation of the people of God in the Exodus event, and, then, in the words of the prophets who anticipated the Messiah who was to come. This chapter begins the story and sets the stage for all the rest.
The second chapter of the Christian story begins with the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. God breaks into history in a new and unique way with the birth of Jesus. This chapter, then, tells the story of Jesus’ life on earth, beginning with his birth. The chapter concludes on Good Friday, with his death on the cross.
Next comes the third chapter, which opens on Easter Day, the day of the Resurrection. And during this part of the book, we read of the appearances of the resurrected Christ to his disciples. The reality of resurrection and of victory of life over death are affirmed in and through these appearances after Jesus’ resurrection. The chapter ends with the event which we celebrated a week ago. At the time of Christ’s Ascension, his time on earth ended, and he went to be with God the Father.
Finally, then, the fourth chapter of the Christian story begins with this day – the Day of Pentecost. On this day, the Spirit of Christ returned, to be the comforter and the guide for the people of God for all the rest of the story. And we need to recognize that this chapter continues to have pages added to it, for this part of the story is in process. This chapter continues to be written, even today. Pentecost, then, opens the chapter of the Christian story which includes us.
I hope this brief survey of the Christian story recalls significant events in that story. Further, I hope that we understand the importance of this day in the whole story – and, especially, the significance of Pentecost in opening the chapter that involves us directly.
Now, if there had been several eye-witness accounts of the Day of Pentecost written down, I suspect different descriptions of events of that day would have been reported. That is, it is an understatement to say that our reading from Acts this morning is amazing and remarkable and miraculous. All those observations are true about the Day of Pentecost, I believe. And I believe, further, that someone else’s description of events that day might be equally amazing and remarkable and miraculous – and true – while also describing very different aspects of the experience of the day.
Therefore, it is important to perceive what the message is, underneath whatever the particular events were on Pentecost. Jesus had promised to be with his disciples “to the end of the age.” Yet, Jesus then ascended to be with God the Father. On Pentecost, the Spirit of Jesus – the Holy Spirit – came to be with his disciples, to comfort, guide, and empower them. The promise of Jesus, to be present with his disciples, is fulfilled when the Holy Spirit arrives on the scene. And so, the first part of the message of Pentecost is that the Spirit has come to be with the disciples of Jesus.
The second part of the Pentecost message is also very important, and we must not miss it by focusing too much on the reported details of the day. That is, the Spirit’s work involves unity. The Spirit rested or flowed or overwhelmed various people from different countries, who spoke a variety of languages and dialects. But all of them understood the same message on that day because the Spirit of Christ – the Holy Spirit – works for unity among the disciples of Jesus. That message is current today, and we need to remember it. When we are responsive to the Spirit of Christ, then we find ourselves inclined, compelled, and driven toward unity among those who call themselves “Christians.”
I said earlier that this chapter of the Christian story continues to be written … and so, I want us to look briefly at part of the story being written today. The bishop’s prayer at the time of confirmation calls upon the Spirit of Christ to act at this time in history. And that is the same Spirit that acted on the first Pentecost. Listen to the words of today’s prayer. “Strengthen, O Lord, your servant with your Holy Spirit; empower her for your service; and sustain her all the days of her life” (BCP, p. 418). Thus, we pray that the Spirit of Christ – the Spirit known at Pentecost – will be active today, to strengthen, empower, and sustain the candidate for confirmation this morning.
Today, then, we find ourselves in the chapter of the Christian story which began on Pentecost. Previous chapters have included testimony to God’s actions in the time of the Old Testament; then, the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth; and then, the resurrection of Jesus and his appearances to his disciples, as the resurrected Christ. Our time in the Christian story begins with the Day of Pentecost, and it includes indications of the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit since that first Pentecost.
May we, therefore, praise God for the wonders of the Christian story. May we remember that our chapter in that story begins with the Day of Pentecost, and it continues even today. And may we give thanks that the Holy Spirit of Christ works to strengthen, empower, and sustain the candidate today – and all the rest of us as well – for all the days of our lives. Amen.
The Right Reverend Charles G. vonRosenberg
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