The Story of Pentecost from the Book of the Acts of the Apostles
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs--in our own languages we hear them speaking about God's deeds of power." All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, "What does this mean?" But others sneered and said, "They are filled with new wine." But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, "Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o'clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 'In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord's great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.' -Acts 2:1-21
Let us go forth into the world, rejoicing in the power of Holy Spirit, Alleluia, Alleluia
-Dismissal after the Eucharist
The Dove Descending
The dove descending breaks the air With flame of incandescent terror Of which the tongues declare The one discharge from sin and error. The only hope, or else despair Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre- To be redeemed from fire by fire. Who then devised the torment? Love. Love is the unfamiliar Name Behind the hands that wove The intolerable shirt of flame Which human power cannot remove. We only live, only suspire Consumed by either fire or fire. -T.S.Eliot 1888-1956 from Little Gidding, Four Quartets
The beginning of Christendom is, strictly, at a point out of time. A metaphysical trigonometry finds it among the spiritual Secrets, at the meeting of two heavenward lines, one drawn from Bethany along the Ascent of Messias, the other from Jerusalem against the Descent of the Paraclete. That measurement, the measurement of eternity in operation, of the bright cloud and the rushing wind, is, in effect, theology.
The history of Christendom is the history of an operation. It is an operation of the Holy Ghost towards Christ, under the conditions of our humanity; and it was our humanity which gave the signal, as it were, for that operation. The visible beginning of the Church is at Pentecost, but that is only a result of is actual beginning – and ending – in heaven.
-Charles Williams 1886-1945 The Descent of the Dove: A Short History of the Holy Spirit in the Church (quoted from Love’s Redeeming Work: The Anglican Quest for Holiness)
Pentecost, Torelli, from a Gradual, c. 1413
I cannot cause light; the most I can do is try to put myself in the path of its beam. It is possible, in deep space, to sail on solar wind. Light, be it particle or wave, has force: you rig a giant sail and go. The secret of seeing is to sail on solar wind. Hone and spread your spirit till you yourself are a sail, whetted, translucent, broadside to the merest puff.
Annie Dillard Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
The rustling of the olive trees speaks of the movement of the wind. The Greek work for spirit has the suggestion of breath or wind; the Hebrew word - Ruach - actually means the desert-wind, that powerful unseen force that sweeps across the face of the earth, none knows whence or whither. The wind - the Spirit - it bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest its voice, but thou knowest not whence it cometh and whither it goeth. But you can feel its breath on your face if, hearing it pass, you go out and stand in its course. So is everyone that is born of the Spirit. Don't ask for credentials. Don't wait till you know the source of the wind before you let it refresh you, or its destination before you spread sail to it. It offers what you need; trust yourself to it.
-William Temple 1881-1944 Readings in John's Gospel
The gospel is absurd and the life of Jesus is meaningless unless we believe that He lived, died, and rose again with but one purpose in mind: to make brand-new creation. Not to make people with better morals but to create a community of prophets and professional lovers, men and women who would surrender to the mystery of the fire of the Spirit that burns within, who would live in ever greater fidelity to the omnipresent Word of God, who would enter into the center of it all, the very heart and mystery of Christ, into the center of the flame that consumes, purifies, and sets everything aglow with peace, joy, boldness, and extravagant, furious love. This, my friend, is what it really means to be a Christian.
-Brennan Manning 1934-2013
The Living Flame of Love (Songs that the soul sings in her intimate union with God, her beloved Bridegroom.)
O Love's living flame, Tenderly you wound My soul's deepest center! Since you no longer evade me, Will you, please, at last conclude: Rend the veil of this sweet encounter!
O cautery so tender! O pampered wound! O soft hand! O touch so delicately strange, Tasting of eternal life And canceling all debts! Killing, death into life you change!
O lamps of fiery lure, In whose shining transparence The deep cavern of the senses, Blind and obscure, Warmth and light, with strange flares, Gives with the lover's caresses!
How tame and loving Your memory rises in my breast, Where secretly only you live, And in your fragrant breathing, Full of goodness and grace, How delicately in love you make me feel!
-John of the Cross 1542-1591 trans. Antonio T. de Nicholas
Christ sending out the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit, Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, New York City. Photo by Patrick J. Paglen. We saw this on a "vertical tour" of the Cathedral. It is very high on the south wall of the nave. Photo taken from a parapet at the side of the window.
The Descent of the Holy Spirit, The Black Hours, c.1470
Pentecost, Lorenzo Monaco, Letter O, Antiphonary, 1396
Prologue: the beginning of the church The Jewish day of Pentecost celebrated the giving of the law on Mt. Sinai. The story in the book of Exodus of the giving of the law is marked by characteristic Baal imagery: God appears on top of a mountain, with thunder, lightning, cloud, and earthquake. Exodus 19:19 says that when Moses talked to God, "God would answer him in thunder." So in Acts 2 God arrives in "a sound like the rush of a violent wind," and fire appears, not on the top of a holy mountain, but on the top of each believer’s head.
–Gail Ramshaw Treasures Old and New: Images in the Lectionary p.423
You make the winds your messengers and flames of fire your servants.Psalm 104:4 In his study of mysticism, The Idea of the Holy, Rudolf Otto describes both a sense of awe and a sense of dread when encountering the numinous. Like wind and fire in nature provoking situations of danger or comfort, wind and fire in scripture symbolize Divine Presence evoking awe, terror, and fascination. In mystical progression, Pentecost is the analog for the union of the soul with God. I think it is impossible to approach Pentecost without a sense of dread. The conferring of the Holy Spirit is the same motion as the commissioning as Apostles. We are “sent” to the “ends of the earth” as bearers of Good News. But Good News is real change, and change is dangerous, and often not received well, as tradition illustrates. I love the mystical poetry I found relating to union of the soul with the Divine: the Jewish Liturgical rhapsody on holy fire (Meditation One), and Mechtild and Catherine of Sienna's hymns to divine union (Meditations Two and Three) and finally, Mychal Judge's famous prayer sending us out into the world (The Last Word). The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest its voice, but thou knowest not whence it cometh and whether it goeth; so is every one that is born of the spirit. Where are you sent? Blessings of wind and fire, -Suzanne
Meditation One (Introit) Celestial Fire Now an angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in a blazing fire – a fire that devours fire; a fire that burns in things dry and moist; a fire that glows amid snow and ice; a fire that is like a crouching lion; a fire that reveals itself in many forms; a fire that is, and never expires; a fire that shines and roars; a fire that blazes and sparkles; a fire that flies in a storm wind; a fire that burns without wood; a fire that renews itself every day; a fire that is not fanned by fire; a fire that billows like palm branches; a fire whose sparks are flashes of lightning; a fire black as a raven; a fire, curled, like the colours of the rainbows! -Eleazar Ben Kaller c 6th to 10th century liturgical poet translated by T Carmi The Element Book of Mystical Verse
Meditation Two (Insight) Union of Desires And God said to the soul: I desired you before the world began. I desire you now As you desire me And where the desires of two come together There love is perfected. -Mechtild of Magdeburg 1207-1297 (trans.by Oliver Davies)
How God comes to the soul: I descend on my love As dew on a flower. -Mechtild of Magdeburg (trans. by Oliver Davies)
There the soul dwells – like the fish in the sea and the sea in the fish. -Catherine of Siena c 1347 (?1333)-1380
Meditation Three (Integration) Going Forth Effortlessly,
Love flows from God into man, Like a bird Who rivers the air Without moving her wings. Thus we move in His world, One in body and soul, Though outwardly separate in form. As the Source strikes the note, Humanity sings-- The Holy Spirit is our harpist, And all strings Which are touched in Love Must sound. - Mechtild of Magdeburg 1207-1297 trans. Jane Hirshfield
The Last Word A Prayer For Going Forth Lord Take me where you want me to go, Let me meet who you want me to meet Tell me what you want me to say, and keep me out of your way. -The Rev. Mychal Judge O.F.M. d. 9/11/2001
Pentecost, Unknown Illustrator of the Petites Heures de Jean de Berry, 14th century
For as you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world. -John 17:18
And now, ready or not, the Spirit sends us into the world.
Bearing love, bringing love into loveless situations, requires humility, honor, bravery, and not a little quixotic foolishness.
But am I ready? Although I've been formed by the exacting process of the pedagogy of the liturgical year and mystical life from Advent through Ascension, I'm not perfect. I bring my weakness, ignorances, rough spots, tragic flaws into the quest.
Send me back into Advent! I'm not ready for Ordinary Time!
Below, find an image from a dream/ meditation from Henry Suso that can help. In it, he is elevated from squire to knight. (Henry Suso, 1300-1366, was a popular devotional writer in the Middle Ages. With Johannes Tauler, Suso was a student of Meister Eckhart. The three together are known as “the Rhineland Mystics.”)
I hope this chivalric image finds you girding your loins for the Pentecost event and the trials awaiting you thereafter in your love-bearing.
French Miniaturist, Bible of Hainburg, 1300-20
Evelyn Underhill, in her book Mysticism, introduces Suso’s vision:
Some weeks later, when he had been rejoicing in the new bodily comfort which resulted from his relinquishment of all outward mortifications, Suso received a still more pointed lesson on his need of moral courage. He was sitting on his bed and meditating on the words of Job “Militia est.” “The life of man upon the earth is like unto that of a knight.” Job 7:1 (Vulgate) and during this meditation, he was once more rapt from his senses, and it seemed to him that he saw coming towards him a fair youth of manly bearing, who held in his hands the spurs and the other apparel which knights are accustomed to wear.
And he drew near to the Servitor, and clothed him in a coat of mail, and said to him, ‘Oh, knight! hitherto thou hast been but a squire, but now it is God’s will that thou be raised to knighthood.’ And the Servitor gazed at his spurs, and said with much amazement in his heart, ‘Alas, my God! what has befallen me? what have I become? must I indeed be a knight? I had far rather remain in peace.’
Then he said to the young man, ‘Since it is God’s will that I should be a knight I had rather have won my spurs in battle; for this would have been more glorious.’
The young man turned away and began to laugh: and said to him, ‘Have no fear! thou shalt have battles enough. He who would play a valiant part in the spiritual chivalry of God must endure more numerous and more dreadful combats than any which were encountered by the proud heroes of ancient days, of whom the world tells and sings the knightly deeds. It is not that God desires to free thee from thy burdens; He would only change them and make them far heavier than they have ever been.’
Then the Servitor said, ‘Oh, Lord, show me my pains in advance, in order that I may know them.’
The Lord replied, ‘No, it is better that thou know nothing, lest thou shouldst hesitate….”
Nevertheless, the young man hints at three things. One, that Suso’s reputation will be ruined : “Thou shalt be an object of contempt to blinded men.” Two, that he will endure unfaithfulness, sufferings and griefs. And three, that he will seem abandoned by God and that he will be “publicly persecuted by the friends of thine enemies.”
These particular humiliations ultimately strengthened the somewhat over-sensitive Suso, and helped him mature spiritually and morally.
Left. The Descent of the Holy Spirit, from The Black Hours, c. 1470
Pentecost reminds us that Christ's spirit is not mild or temperate but a disrupting force, a caring love that disconcerts and unsettles the systems of this world, redefining power from the inside out and from the bottom up. We usually think and act in terms of continuities, predictability, repetition of schemes and plans, and the Pentecostal event show us God's capacity to interrupt, to break those schemes open, and to violate those formulae: it is a bold and risky spirit, even disobedient, when it is a matter of uncovering new paths of life.
Ivan Nicoletto OSB Cam. unpublished sermon Pentecost, 2019
send us out to do the work you have given us to do, to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord. To him, to you, and to the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.
(Post communion prayer, page 366, American (1979) Book of Common Prayer)