When the Comforter is come – Subdeacon Peter Farrington

Today is the feast of Pentecost. A special day, a happy day, because Pentecost is the reason why we have kept the season of Lent, entered into the passion and suffering of our Lord during Holy Week, and remembered His glorious Ascension into heaven where He sits at the right hand of the Father.

Our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ came down from heaven and became man for the sake of Pentecost. He was beaten, nailed to a cross and died for the sake of Pentecost. He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, as he said Himself. If I depart from you I will send the Holy Spirit.

God is working His purpose out. And His purpose has been to make a new people for Himself, and the life of this new people is the Holy Spirit. God has sent the Holy Spirit to fill the lives of God’s new people, the Church, and through them to share this new life with the world. The promises God made in the Old Testament through his people the Israelites are now being fulfilled in the new Israel which is the Church, for where it was once the case that only one people bore the name of God, and it was necessary to be born into the Jewish people to become part of the people of God’s promise, now God has made his promise available to all people.

Just as on the day of Pentecost there were people, God fearers, from all over the known world, present in Jerusalem for the feast, so in the new people of God, in the Church of Jesus Christ, there are people from all over the world. For in Christ our nationality means nothing, for we have a new life in us, the life of the Holy Spirit. And so even in our small community here we have Christians worshipping from a variety of national and cultural backgrounds, but all of us are united in the one life we share, the life of the Holy Spirit, which was first given at Pentecost and continues to be given in baptism, in the mysteries of the Holy Liturgy, and in all those means which God uses in the Church.

This passage from the Gospel teaches us that the Holy Spirit is sent from God the Father by our Lord Jesus Christ to bear witness to us of the life of Christ. We cannot enter into the Christian life without the Holy Spirit. Who bears witness to us of Christ? It is the Holy Spirit. Therefore we should be asking, ‘How can I acquire the Holy Spirit?’, for without the Holy Spirit we cannot come to know Christ and grow in a life giving relationship with Him. For it is the Holy Spirit who leads us into a life of truth and it is the Holy Spirit who reveals Christ to us and in us.

In our baptism we have received the Holy Spirit within us. God now dwells within our hearts. But the Scriptures teach us that we can grieve, or offend, the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit does not force Himself upon us, but He comes gently and quietly and patiently. There are many who have been baptised in faith but who have constantly chosen to live a life that grieves the Holy Spirit. They are like the man in the parable who buries the money he was given by his master and does nothing with it. We can offend the Holy Spirit, and in such a case we will not grow in our Christian and spiritual lives. Jesus Christ will not be revealed to us.

But we can have hearts like the ground in the parable of the Sower. We can have open hearts, regularly watered by receiving the gifts of God’s grace and life in the Liturgy. We can work to clear the weeds away from our lives by particpating in the prayers and fasts of the Church. We can turn over the rocky ground of our hearts by regular reading of the Scriptures, and other spiritual writings. If we are willing to prepare our hearts, through a continuing effort, then the Holy Spirit will reveal Christ to us and in us. We need to be like someone tending a garden. If we have a garden it requires much more than an occasional weeding and watering if it is to look beautiful. A real gardener will be out every morning and evening. She will be aware of weeds springing up and will deal with them immediately. She will plant new flowers at the right time and will care for them until they flourish and add to the beauty of her garden.

We must have as much care for our own hearts if we want the gift of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit of God, to bear fruit in our own lives. If we want to come to know Christ more and more and become more and more like him.

Indeed this is the purpose of the Holy Spirit coming into our lives. Just as the Holy Spirit bears witness to us of Christ so we are called to bear witness to others of what we have experienced and known of Christ.

The same word is used in the Scriptures for the life which the Holy Spirit brings to us and the life which we are to share with others. Not all of us are called to be evangelists, we are not all expected to preach and stand up in front of crowds. But we are all called to be witnesses.

We all know that a witness can only speak about what they have seen or heard. In a court case anything that is just an opinion is ignored. The witness has to say ‘I saw a man come into the bank, and he was six feet tall, with dark hair and was holding a gun in his right hand’. A witness cannot say, ‘Well, I wasn’t there but I imagine the bank robber must have been quite tall’.

In the same way we can only be witnesses of Christ if we really know Him. If we really have the Holy Spirit active within us, teaching us, changing us, transforming us.

We can bear witness in many different ways. To bear witness is simple. We need only ask ‘How can I show that the Holy Spirit dwells within me?’. When we are at work we can ask this question. When we are at school, or at home. When we are at the shops, when we are walking in the streets. How can I show that the Holy Spirit dwells within me? This is what it means to bear witness.

It does not require complicated words. But it does require us to have dedicated our lives day by day to God, and to the Holy Spirit who is changing us, making us more like Christ.

Is there a person in trouble? Can we support them, and more than that, can we tell them that we will pray for them? Are there lonely people, Christians even? Can we befriend them, and more than that, can we invite them to Church with us? At work are we known as people who are helpful, kind and thoughtful?

There are an infinite number of ways in which we can show others the life of Christ within us because our lives are different, each day we meet different people who have different needs. But it is the same Holy Spirit who will use us to show the life and love of Christ to others. The Holy Spirit is not showy, he does not require us to work miracles or impress others with our clever words, rather He will work in the humble and compassionate heart.

Will you share in God’s holy work of building a new people, filled with His Holy Spirit? Will you bear witness to those around you? Then let us all seek more and more urgently to be filled with the same Holy Spirit by carefully tending the soil of our hearts. Making sure that there are no spiritual weeds. Praying for those around us morning and evening, taking part in the fasts of the Church as far as we are able, and regularly coming with grateful hearts to receive the Body and Blood of Christ in the eucharist for our salvation.

Our Christian life is the experience of coming to know Christ more and more by the gift of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. May we make every effort to enter into this transforming life, not only for our sakes, but for the sake of all those around us to whom God wills that we also bear witness so that they also might come to know Christ and receive the gift of a new life by the Holy Spirit.

May this be our goal always, to the greater glory of God.