“He shall teach you all
things, and bring all things
to your remembrance”
the fiftieth day after Easter and celebrates the birth of the Church through
the descent of the Holy Ghost upon the disciples who “were all together
in one place”. Was it the Upper Room, perhaps, the same place of
betrayal at the Passover Supper, the same place, too, of the making known of
the Resurrection behind the closed doors of our hearts and minds? Perhaps.
But over and
against the hidden things of our hearts and the closed doors of our minds,
Pentecost is all out in the open. It is public and for all to see.
It is universal, for all people. “We do hear them speak in our
tongues.” Out of the Babel of the nations, out of the differences
and diversities of tongues and cultures, one thing is heard, openly and for
all peoples and for all times. The one thing is “the wonderful works of
We are united
in the praise of God. Contrary to the prevailing winds of controversy
in our Church, doctrine does not divide but unites. The essential
teachings of the Church are comprehensive and unifying. Without them
we fall into disarray and confusion, a veritable babble of tongues and
conflicting opinions, a confusion of noise and nonsense. When we
subordinate the teaching of the Faith to experience, then we are divided and
rent asunder. The challenge, actually, is to gather up the broken
fragments of human experience into the unifying vision of God. The
wholeness and healing of our humanity are to be found in our being raised up
into the mystery of God revealed and proclaimed in the life of the Church
faithful to that mystery.
paradox of this day is that the elevation of our humanity to
participate in the life of God in the world happens because of the coming
down of the Holy Spirit. It appears as a wonderful event, an
ecstatic experience, “a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind”
and “cloven tongues, like as of fire” resting upon each, resulting in
the astounding and disturbing phenomenon of “speaking in tongues”.
But the content of the experience is the doctrine of Pentecost. The
content is the unifying praise of God heard in all the tongues and languages
of the world. Actually, speaking in tongues is what we do every Sunday
in our liturgy!
And in no way
does this diminish the wonder and the mystery of God. The revelation
of God as the Trinity is something born on the wings of the Spirit leading
our spirits into “something understood”, something understood which
unites all the aspects of revelation into coherence. It is also
“something understood” which gives unity and order and purpose to the
forms of human experience. The experience of Pentecost, ecstatic and
mystical, literally, a standing outside of ourselves by placing us in the
mystery of God, humbles us and exalts us. It signals the redemption
and the sanctification of the experiences of our lives.
Wind and fire.
These are intangible things. Who has seen the wind? Who can
touch the fire? But they open us out to the mystery of God as Trinity,
the mystery which we can only think and adore. We cannot take the
mystery of God captive to our understanding, reducing God to our experience
or to our culture, making God my personal deity, my personal saviour, as if
God were my possession, your possession, our possession or some cultural
token. For that is the essence of idolatry, the idea that God is made
in our image.
It is the exact
reverse of what is signaled in the Pentecostal vision of wind and fire.
We are made in the image of God. Something of the spiritual reality of
God is wonderfully signified in the Feast of Pentecost, in the coming down
of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the Father and the Son, the Spirit who
signifies the essential nature of God. And we are raised up into the
mystery of God by God’s embracing us in the vision of his glory. Only so
can we be changed. “We all with open face,/ beholding as in a glass
the glory of the Lord,/ are changed into the same image from glory to
glory,/ even by the Spirit of the Lord.” God engages our
imaginations. God engages the cultural distinctives of our humanity
but without being reduced to the cultural and the experiential.
gathers us into the whole pageant of God’s dealings with our humanity.
There is creation. The Spirit moving over the waters brings
order and unity to the inchoate forms of the material world. God
breathes his Spirit into the dust of humanity and we are made alive, living
beings. There is redemption – the pageant of God’s dealing with
his wayward, recalcitrant and disobedient people who seek to have things
their way which is no way. God’s spirit speaks to prophet and people,
and constantly and steadfastly recalls them to his law, to his word and will
for his people delivered on the mount of glory in cloud of majesty and awe;
God leading his people in the wilderness journeys of our persistent
sinfulness, a pillar of cloud by day, a pillar of light by night.
Once again, these contrasting and intangible images of things seen and heard
open us out to the transcendent mystery of the glory of God. We are
sanctification – the process of our being conformed to the image of God
by lives of holiness lived in each of the circumstances of our lives.
It only happens when we let the Holy Spirit guide us. And how does
that happen? Through holy raves? Through whooped-up happenings?
Through the only too tangible manipulation of our hearts and minds by drugs
and by over-charged music? No. Through our being taught.
Through the intensity of worship that engages our emotions with the high
things of God which is quite different from the manipulation of our
emotions. Through the experience of worship that constantly grounds us
in the mystery of God revealed and honoured. God is spirit.
The Holy Spirit
is the spirit of unity and order. “Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire,
And lighten with celestial fire;/ Thou the anointing Spirit art,/ Who dost
thy sev’nfold gifts impart”. And what are those seven-fold gifts?
They are the gifts of the Spirit. They are the spiritual and
intellectual qualities of the soul, not material and physical things.
They are the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of
counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the
Lord, as Isaiah teaches, and the spirit, too, of piety.
They are the gifts that embrace and gather us to God in worship and in
truth. They signal the highest potentialities of our humanity.
Not only do we have an end with God in the everlasting reason of God
signaled in the Ascension and Session of Christ, but we participate in the
divine life now through the gifts of the spirit made manifest in the
teaching life of the worshipping church.
The Gospel for
Pentecost is, once again, taken from the so-called “farewell discourse”
of John’s Gospel which has been before us throughout the greater part of
Eastertide and Ascensiontide. It has been the formative gospel of our
instruction throughout these holy times and seasons. Jesus has been at
pains to open us out to the larger meaning and reality of God, teaching us
that God is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching us that the
Spirit of the Father and the Son will “lead [us] into all truth”,
that the Spirit of the Father and the Son, “shall teach [us] all things
and will bring all things to [our] remembrance.” And what are
those things? “whatsoever I have said unto you”.
pageant of God’s Word in the witness of the Scriptures, as our Anglican
tradition in its truth and glory would remind us, is comprehended in the
creeds and in the pattern of holy doctrine and worship and life that arises
from the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the ordered and disciplined life of
the Church. When we forget that, then we are at the mercy of ourselves
in the idolatry of our experiences; the paradox is that only in the Spirit
of God revealed in the pattern of order and doctrine can there be the
redemption and the sanctification of experience. Pentecost signals the
redemption and the sanctification of human experience by gathering us into
the life of God revealed.
“He shall teach you all
things, and bring all things
to your remembrance”