Today is Pentecost, the day the Christian church celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit to dwell amongst the people of God and to be our “Helper”. In this post last year, I was just beginning to learn about the significance of this feast. This year I’m going deeper.
I’ve been reading Simply Christian by N.T. Wright the past few weeks. It’s taking me awhile to get through because it’s so rich and I’m taking copious notes! As luck (?) would have it, I just reached the chapters on the Holy Spirit this weekend.
Through liturgy, reading, and prayer, I’ve been deepening my understanding of the Holy Spirit, and wanted to share…
Pentecost is sometimes referred to as the “birthday of the church”. The church was born after Jesus ascended into heaven and sent his “helper” – the Holy Spirit – to empower the disciples. Jesus said, “… you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witness in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth,” (Acts 1:8).
Jesus was leaving his disciples to return to the right hand of God the Father, and wanted them to rest assured that he was not deserting them. The Holy Spirit would be with them to provide guidance and power in their mission to spread the gospel throughout the world. Wright describes, “…the point of the Spirit is to enable those who follow Jesus to take into all the world the news that he is Lord, that he has won the victory over the forces of evil, that a new world has opened up, and that we are to help make that happen.” (Simply Christian, p. 122).
For churches that become focused on what their members can accomplish, who see their earthly ministries as being powered by themselves, a tragic misunderstanding has occurred, states Wright. Instead, the church ceases to be the church without God’s Spirit. The Spirit allows people, as the church, to BE the people of God.
So, what is the Spirit enabling the church to do? Wright describes that the church is to carry forward the work of Jesus. In Acts, the author refers to his previous book – the Gospel of Luke – where he described all that Jesus began to do and teach. “The implication is clear: that the story of the church, led and energized by the power of the Spirit, is the story of Jesus continuing to do and to teach – through his Spirit-led people… that’s why we pray that God’s kingdom will come, and his will will be done, “on earth as it is in heaven,” (p. 135). The Spirit provides the power by which God’s kingdom is made manifest on Earth.
As people of God, we get to share in this kingdom, by the relationship within the Triune God. Wright says, “… one way of understanding the Spirit is to see the Spirit as the personal love which the Father has for the Son and the Son for the Father. In that understanding, we are invited to share in this inner and loving life of God, by having the Spirit live within us,” (p. 139). That’s a humbling and awesome thought. The Holy Spirit that comes into us in Holy Baptism is the pure love that flows between the three persons of the Trinity. The Spirit is always with us and, as Saint Paul tells the Romans, “… the Spirit helps us in our weakness… he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God,” (Romans 8:26-27).
There is a pure and simple truth in pondering the Holy Spirit – as Christians, we have everything we need through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. He sent us his Holy Spirit to support our life and the work of his church on earth. As people of God, there’s remarkably very little that God expects us to do. Literally nothing without his help.
I find such peace and freedom in that. I hope you do too.