23 May 2010
Gen 11:1-9; Acts 2:1-21; John 14:8 - 27
At this time of the year, on this last Sunday of the College term, we cannot help but have in mind what lies ahead for those leavers who are to be made Deacon and for last year’s Deacons who will be ordained Priest. It is a looking forward, the expectation of something new - and there is a proper excitement for them and for us. ‘Send down the Holy Spirit on your servant...’ However, if we are not careful, we find we have fallen prey to that most human and most modern of sins: the endless desire for novelty. I’ve done my novitiate - it’s time for the new challenges and excitements of professed life. (Or more immediately for Fr Dennis - I’ve been a postulant, now it’s time to spread my wings in the novitiate.) And so it goes on for all of us: I’ve done this job long enough, it’s time for a change.
How does this look in relation to the gift of the Holy Spirit? Well, again, in terms of contemporary spirituality, it can sometimes seem as though learning the story of Jesus belongs to childhood (admittedly increasingly a childhood delayed into adulthood for many) and then there comes a point when we seek a new, more mature, more spiritual faith, a time when we can begin to transcend the limitations of human existence - and is this not the role of the Holy Spirit?
It doesn’t take much reflection to realise that this kind of picture is wholly at odds with the testimony of scripture. Not that scripture denies the newness that comes with the gift of the Spirit - not at all : it’s more a question of locating the utterly new aright.
almost any passage from John’s farewell discourse would be appropriate for
today’s Gospel; or the strange appearance of Jesus in the upper room after his
resurrection when he breathes on his disciples - which is the Roman
lectionary’s provision for today. The strength of our passage is the way it
helps us remember that the sending of the Spirit is not some new departure but
the continuing revelation of the one God, who is Father, Son and Spirit. It is
the role of Jesus and the Spirit alike to show us the Father. It is the role of
the Spirit to keep us in the love of Jesus, that, abiding in him, we may be held
in the love of the Father. In this sense, nothing new but the hidden,
gracious means by which the presence of the risen Christ is renewed in us day by
day. No wonder
second dimension to the gift of the Spirit is what we, taught by
we are almost ready to look into the third dimension of the gift of the Spirit.
We can be confident that we have outperformed Messrs Clegg and Cameron: we are
called into a coalition, a love-in infinitely more exciting and rewarding than
theirs. Indeed, it is not to a coalition
that we are called but to union, to perfect unity in the Spirit,
with the Father and the Son and so with all creation. This we simply cannot
imagine. We look at our fragmented world, at the factions and parties that make
up our Church, at the seeming impossibility of achieving even modestly effective
communication, even at the tongue-tied agonies we suffer when trying to open
ourselves to one we love. No wonder then that Pentecost is represented as a new
American novelist Neal Stephenson, who has inspired me to much theological
reflection in the past year, in a novel about computer viruses quotes George
Steiner, “Our speech interposes itself between apprehension and truth like a
dusty pane or warped mirror. The tongue of