Pentecost Reflection

Pentecost Reflection given in Aghalurcher Old Graveyard, Lisnaskea by Michael Jackson, Church of Ireland bishop of Clogher, on Whitsunday 2007

Very little belongs exclusively to the Christian Church. We are not an ever-expanding multi-national with a healthy income stream and rapidly appreciating capital growth. There is nothing which we have which is not already God's. Whoever we are, we are the people who are sent by the Father into the world to continue the work of the Son in the power of the Spirit. We are the people who fall asleep in Gethsemane; who stand until the bitter end at the foot of the Cross; who rush to the Tomb; who look up to heaven in the wake of the Ascended Christ; who await expectantly the coming of the Holy Spirit of the same Christ. For every moment of glory, there is a moment of suffering. On earth, not in heaven, we live with the tension and, the stronger our faith, the stronger the tension; the deeper our need, the greater God's grace. This is what it is to be washed white in the blood of the Lamb and to be tried and tested in the white heat of the Spirit.

Neither does the Christian Church invent anything. It is commissioned and tasked, nonetheless, with creating a new world. God's people Israel had long before made the connection between the Harvest Festival of Weeks and the commemoration of the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai. This combination received expression in the hope of a Year of Jubilee when generosity and justice make harmony together. And so God's generosity, our human response and a moral life lived lawfully combine with the coming of the Spirit of God. Wind and fire are part of the giving of the Law of God, so they are part of the coming of the Spirit of the same God at Pentecost. Psalm 19 tells us that as the heavens tell the glory of God and the firmament proclaims his handiwork, so also the Law of the Lord is perfect and revives the soul. Law is part of what God creates. As the Spirit moves over the waters of chaos, so the Spirit moves through societies with the expectations of a moral life lived for others. In this way creation can regenerate itself, ecologically and theologically, as those who are entrusted with its oversight and governance work with God in a morally responsible way to fulfil the charge given them to serve and to lead.

Yet we are not accustomed today to seeing law and spirit working hand in hand. The caricature for which we have settled is the bi-focal distortion that self-fulfilment is the only accountability and that obedience to anything beyond ourselves is the last resort of those devoid of personal initiative. This ethic of advanced individualism cuts across the trinity of creation, law and spirit. And this trinity in our own fallen world, striving still for what is good, points us - who believe in the power of Jesus Christ to re-create and to create anew - toward the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Pentecost is a day on which we receive again from God a new creation. Pentecost is a day when law and grace meet and embrace. Pentecost is a day when generosity and response build a new community of three things: faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love.

28 May 2007