My brother Michael used to live in Manchester in northern England. I went to stay with him one August during a heat wave. His apartment was hot and claustrophobic, and the city felt suffocating. So, one day we just took off. We got on the little pay train which wound its way slowly, out of the city and up, up into the glorious Peak District. The train stopped at a tiny station surrounded by magnificent hills. We got out and we climbed and climbed for several hours till we reached the top of the highest hill, Kinder Scout. We were exhausted, but wonderfully exhilarated. We drank in the cool air in great thirsty gulps, and as we breathed we felt quite intoxicated, and I remember we started leaping around, and shouting and laughing with sheer joy. Way below us a couple of hikers looked up, and I think they probably thought we were drunk!
Today is the Day of Pentecost. On this day the gift of divine power came to the disciples, and there was no mistaking it; for it was accompanied by an experience which pounded their senses. Divine power was invading them. An intense, ‘catastrophic’ experience. A rushing wind, tongues of fire, a power beyond human lives invading human lives. Perhaps the disciples started leaping around, as extraordinary words came out of their mouths. Certainly, others thought they must be drunk!
I Corinthians 12:3b-13
Today’s lessons present us with two very different accounts of how Jesus’ disciples received the gift of the Holy Spirit. The first account, recorded in the Gospel of John, takes place in the evening of the first day of the week; that is, on Easter day. The disciples are gathered in a house with its doors locked shut. The gospel writer tells us they are afraid and explains why: they are imagining that the same people who put Jesus to death might now come after them. Without warning, and apparently without knocking or using the door, Jesus appears in the room, standing among them. “Peace be with you,” he says. He then shows them his hands and his side, proving that he is the same Jesus they knew, still bearing the marks of his crucifixion. The disciples receive him gladly, and he responds by ordering them into the world, just as the Father had sent him into the world. Then, he breathes on them, and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Finally, along with the commission to go into the world and the gift of the Holy Spirit, he grants them power to forgive people’s sins, or to refuse them forgiveness.
It’s a gentle episode – emotional perhaps, but not terrifying; surprising, but not overwhelming. We can imagine Jesus greeting them in a calm, quiet voice to soothe their shock at his sudden appearance: “Peace be with you.” The Spirit comes to them in such a gentle way: Jesus simply breathes on them. The Hebrew word for “spirit” means “breath” or “wind.” Here it comes as a gentle breath.
Preached at Order of the Holy Cross, West Park NY
Psalm 104:25-35, 37
John 14:8-17 (25-27)
I know that not many of you know me, but those of you who do, will perhaps remember that my undergraduate degree is in history. All my life I have been interested in history. There was even a time long ago when asked what I wanted to do when I grew up, my response was more likely to be a pioneer, than anything else. I remain fascinated by history and especially, for obvious reasons, by the history of the revival of monasticism within the Anglican tradition.
Reading the history of the monastic movement within Anglicanism is lots of fun, because you come across all kinds of people, some of them inspirational, like Father Huntington or Father Benson, and some of them just plain nuts, like Father Ignatius of Llanthony.
Genesis 11: 1-9
Acts 2: 1-21
John 14: 8-18, 25-27
I must confess that I have always been more than a little envious of those who, at least to me appear to be able, to acquire another language with hardly any effort. I have always struggled to learn a second language.
As a child my parents enrolled all my siblings and me in private French lessons, but when French became available at school, it was like starting over again. Each year was the same, I would struggle all year to learn a few basics, scrap by with a pass at the end of the school year, and then forget everything in the summer and start from square one again on the Fall. I finally dropped out of Latin in high school. In the first year of seminary, I enrolled in Greek. Early in the term of first year the Greek professor arranged for us all to take a language aptitude test. My years of struggling to learn another language all came together with that test, and finally made sense.
Genesis 1:1-8 / Acts 2:1-21 / John 20:19-23
Four years ago, we brothers were gathered together at Emery House for the start of our annual retreat. The weather was hot and very still. Not a breath of air. I was sitting in my room, and was feeling very tired and, frankly, a bit discouraged. The renovations, living in a temporary home away from the monastery, had left me feeling depleted and spent. Usually, the prospect of a week’s retreat would have really energized me, but now it just sounded daunting. I offered a few desultory prayers – Come on Lord, help me get some energy. I want to feel alive again. Come, Holy Spirit – do something!
So I thought I’d go out for a walk, and went into the Maudslay State Park, and sat on a bluff over the river. As I sat there, the temperature suddenly started to plummet, and out of nowhere there came this huge wind, blowing over the bluff. I started laughing. It just seemed such a gift from God, an answer to prayer. Thank you God – and I remember running down the hill towards the river, feeling quite exhilarated. Here comes the Holy Spirit.
A sermon preached at OSA Bethany Convent, Arlington Hts, MA
Acts 2:1-21 / Rom. 8:14-17, 22-27 / Jn 14:8-17, 25-27
Last May, on the Sunday afternoon before the end of the Course at which Br. Timothy and I were chaplains at St. George’s College, Jerusalem, we were taken to see the place commemorating the Ascension of Jesus on the Mount of Olives. Then we went over to Mount Zion, beyond the Kidron Valley, on the other side of the Old City of Jerusalem.