Year B – Pentecost Sunday

Year B - Pentecost Sunday 1

The Power of the Spirit

(Acts 2:1-11; Gal.5:16-25; Jn.15:26-27; 16:12-15)

Whenever we’re anxious or distressed, we need the Spirit of Peace. Whenever we’re sad and life seems too hard, we need the Spirit of Joy.

And whenever we’re in darkness and doubt, we need the Spirit of Light.

Today we celebrate the power of the Holy Spirit, the power that Jesus poured into his disciples at Pentecost.

On that day, the disciples were hiding in fear in the Upper Room, when a great noise like a mighty wind rushed through and tongues of fire appeared above them.

They were suddenly transformed. The once-fearful disciples emerged as courageous Apostles, telling the crowds in the street the truth about Jesus. 3,000 people became Christians that day, and the Church was born.

Some people think of Pentecost as a single, standalone event, but it actually marks the end of the fifty days of Easter. As Joan Chittister writes, ‘… only here in this time, between the bursting open of the tomb and, fifty days later, the overflowing of the Holy Spirit, does the full awareness of what it is to live in Christ, with Christ, and through Christ finally dawn.’ [i]

So, who is this Holy Spirit? With God the Father and God the Son, the Holy Spirit completes the Trinity. All three are co-equal and of the same essence, and like the Father, the Holy Spirit is invisible. But He’s also a person, and not just an influence or an impersonal force.

How do we know the Spirit is a person? It’s because the Bible presents Him that way (e.g., Jn.6:63; Rom.8:11; 1Jn.5:6; Jn.16:7-8). It makes it clear that the Holy Spirit thinks, feels, has a mind, and does things only a person can do.

Now, the Spirit the Apostles receive at Pentecost is the same Spirit that created the world (Gen.1:1-2); that transformed Adam from dust into a human being (Gen.2:7); that guided Moses through the desert (Num.11:16-17); and that raised Jesus from the dead.

Importantly, it’s also the very same Spirit we receive at our Baptism and Confirmation.

The Holy Spirit is a powerful, energising force, and in Scripture He is given several names, including Spirit of God, Spirit of Jesus, and the Spirit of Truth. Jesus also calls him ‘another Comforter’, a ‘Counsellor’, ‘Advocate’ or ‘Paraclete’.

But what is a Paraclete? The Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins says that a Paraclete ‘is often translated as comforter, but a Paraclete does more than comfort.

‘The word is Greek, and there’s no one English word for it. Comforter is not enough. A Paraclete is one who comforts, cheers, encourages, persuades, exhorts, stirs up, urges forward and who calls on… what clapping of hands is to a speaker, what a trumpet is to the soldier, that a Paraclete is to the soul… A Paraclete is one who calls us on to good.’ [ii]

William Barclay says that the Holy Spirit’s purpose is to fill a person with the power and courage they need to triumphantly cope with life.

In Greek, he says, the root word for this power is du-namis, from which we get the English word dynamite, which is an explosive force. The Holy Spirit, therefore, is not passive. He’s an active force of explosive power that encourages and empowers. [iii]

That’s the same Spirit we receive at our Baptism! And we receive a ‘top-up’ every time we receive the sacraments.

The great evangelist Dwight L. Moody was once asked, ‘If we were filled with the Holy Spirit at Baptism, why do we need to be refilled so often?’

‘Because we leak,’ Moody replied.

‘The fact is,’ he said, ‘we are leaky vessels and we have to keep right under the fountain all the time to keep full of Christ, and so have a fresh supply.’

Sadly, too many of us are not really all that open to God. We say we are, but we often let our precious Spirit leak away. We don’t take His gifts seriously, we are happy to overlook our responsibilities, we fail to grow in holiness and we even choose to sin.

And yet, when we genuinely welcome the Holy Spirit into our hearts, our lives are uplifted and we find ourselves blessed with love, forgiveness, kindness, goodness, gentleness, peace, and joy (Gal.5:22-23).

Aren’t these exactly the things we all want and need?

So, together, let’s say this little prayer:

Come Holy Spirit. Fill my heart with your love, fill my mind with your light.

[i] Joan Chittister, The Liturgical Year, Thomas Nelson, 2009.

[ii] Gerard Manley Hopkins, Sermon on the Paraclete, Liverpool, 1882.

[iii] William Barclay, New Testament Words. Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1964:216-221.