Pentecost or more traditionally Whitsun is I think the Cinderella of Christian festivals, it has never really had the impact of Christmas and Easter. It doesn’t have the same traditions or social events around it which make it stand out in the wider culture either. I think increasingly the church doesn’t really know how to mark the occasion and even the recent ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ prayer campaign which has actually taken off across the churches in recent years doesn’t really make much of Pentecost itself. Yet Pentecost is perhaps one of the most exciting of the church festivals for it marks the moment when God started the church! It is in effect the Church’s birthday, the day that God sent the Holy Spirit to inspire and empower ordinary Christians to do extraordinary things for Him.
The Holy Spirit is given freely to all of us as a free gift from God. Jesus promised his disciples that we would receive this gift so that we might know his presence with us as we live out our faith on a daily basis.
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another comforter to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you…”
- John 14:15-16
The problem is when most of us think of comfort we think of the luxuries of life, or being wrapped up in a warm blanket or duvet. We also think of comfort as something that consoles us when we are upset or in need. Whilst all these things are true the word used in the New Testament has a completely different meaning to those we might expect. The word comfort is the same word that we find in relation to prodding, strengthening or stirring into action. The Bayeux Tapestry has a wonderful panel of Bishop Odo, forcing his men into battle, at the end of his battle club, with the abbreviated Latin words: which when translated means: “Here, Bishop Odo, comforts his troops.” As individuals we might not find such ‘comfort’ comforting but the Holy Spirit is given to equip and spur us into action! In fact, the word comfort has traditionally also meant to give or add strength to someone or to encourage, urge or exhort. When we see the coming of the Holy Spirit in that way it makes much more sense of both Jesus words and what we see in the book of Acts as the early church begins to emerge.
The Holy Spirit also empowers us to be the people God created and knows us to be, in that sense the Holy Spirit fills us with God’s wisdom and power for the tasks which he has called us to. On the day of Pentecost it is the Holy Spirit that takes the group of timid and bewildered disciples and equips them to declare the gospel message. Jesus before his Ascension had promised them that they would receive the Holy Spirit to equip them as His witnesses throughout the world.
“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
This power that comes with the Holy Spirit is very real and is available to us just as it was to the first disciples. It is power to live our lives as God intended, power to encourage us and to strength us for acts of service. It is not to make us feel better, or for our own benefit but it is the power to build one another up and to inspire the Church. So as Pentecost approaches perhaps we need to re-evaluate this slightly misunderstood Christian Festival and celebrate the birthday of the church with a bit more style and flair! Our prayer certainly needs to be ‘Come Holy Spirit!’
May the Spirit, who set the Church on fire upon the Day of Pentecost, bring the world alive with the love of the risen Christ. Amen.