Editor’s Note: One of the great privileges of living here in St Andrews has been, for my family, attending All Saints’ Church. Breaking from our normal posting schedule, I thought we might reflect together today, the Day of Pentecost, upon these words, a sermon for Pentecost, from the Reverend Canon Jonathan Mason of All Saints’ Church, St Andrews.
There is sometimes a bit of confusion about this day. The Day of Pentecost: a bit of confusion about where exactly it belongs, where exactly it fits into the calendar of the Church’s year. Although the altar frontal has changed to red, from the white of the last seven weeks of Easter, this is not the beginning of a new season. Rather, it is the culmination of the Great Fifty Days of Easter. Today is, if you like, the last day of Easter. We keep the additional Alleluias; we keep the Easter candle in the chancel. But only until this evening. Tomorrow sees the resumption of ordinary time.
So, this is the end of a season; and yet, no end is just that: an ending. Each ending is also the beginning of something else, of whatever comes next.
We’ll return to the ‘What next’ in a moment, but first let us consider the theme of this Day of Pentecost.
The altar frontal has changed to red because red is the liturgical color of, among other things, the Holy Spirit. Red is also traditionally the color of fire, so there is an echo of those flames that play about the heads of the apostles in that upper room. Red suggests that something vital is going on, there is energy in the air.
In some ways, there’s noting more vital than the Holy Spirit, the energy of God. The words of today’s Blessing remind us that it was the Holy Spirit who hovered over the waters when the world was created; that it was the Holy Spirit who overshadowed the Virgin Mary when the eternal Son came among us; that it was the Holy Spirit who set the Church on fire upon the day of Pentecost.
This theme of vital energy is entirely appropriate for us, this small corner of the universal Church, of God’s Kingdom here on earth, at this time. What happened to the disciples on the Day of Pentecost confirms this. After the Ascension, the disciples with one accord devoted themselves to prayer. The outcome of this devoted listening to God is revealed in the descent of the Holy Spirit as they were gathered together in that house in Jerusalem.
Empowered by the Holy Spirit, they found themselves able to speak to all people, to Parthians, Medes and Elamites and the 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 Arabians. They were able, in other words, to speak to the whole world about God’s deeds of power.
Of course, being able to speak brings no guarantee that people will listen, no guarantee that people will hear what you are saying. Sometimes – perhaps often – we just do not listen, whether to sermons, or to the Bible, or to God in prayer. The crowd in Jerusalem were, we are told, devout Jews, people who knew their scriptures, who practiced their religion. But as we know, they did not hear what the apostles were saying. The Pharisees, after all, had studied the scriptures and yet they had not heard God’s voice nor recognized his Son.
The whole idea of vocation – of being ‘called’ – implies, not just the call itself, but also the response to a call. (And the vocation is for all Christians, not just for those ordained to particular ministries and a few others.) If we are to live up to our vocation as Christians, as a community of faith, we must go on listening for the voice of God.
The message of Pentecost is surely that, if we listen to God then we will not be alone. If we listen to God, we will realize that we have a powerful ally in the Holy Spirit, the vital energy promised by Jesus to his disciples. The Pentecost disciples are very different to the disciples of Easter Day. When Jesus first appeared to them on the day of his resurrection, they were huddled behind closed doors for fear of the Jews. But these are the very same Jews to whom they had the confidence to speak once they had received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
The Reverend Canon Jonathan Mason
All Saints’ Church, St Andrews, Scotland