From today we are under the Son direct. We have his whole and undivided attention. All the powers we identified individually with his men in the Old Testament, are available to us. The Spirit is the combined forces of all these witnesses who now together make one single witness, and one invincible force. The Spirit is the Son and his army, united in one person. That army serves and distinguishes the Son, and has raised the Son from us. Now this force has been sent to us. The Spirit, with all this mighty army, has become our servant. The Spirit has raised a people for the king, and a king for a people. The Spirit is God, at work, securing, and serving, his people. We celebrate him today, at Pentecost.
Evensong 20 May 2004 Pentecost – Exodus 33, 2 Corinthians 3
In the name of the Father, and of Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We have artrived at Pentecost, the festival of the Holy Spirit. We have travelled up to Jerusalem. It was a long hard trek, through weeks of lent, in which we did without much comfort, surviving on less and less until we came up against Jerusalem. Then came a week of suffering and conflict that ended in the cross. Our leader fought an appalling battle – he fought without us – and he won out. He broke the powers that held us all. He was publicly raised. By the exertion of God’s power in the resurrection our man was demonstrated to be God’s man. He was demonstrated to be the man for us, and to be God for us. But this is the beginning – this victory has to be won everywhere. He has triumphed. What is our situation now?
The fierce glory of God, visible as fire at Sinai, is now gently at work. That means out of our sight. We do not see him. He has ascended to where we cannot go, to the right hand of the Father. Christ our pioneer has gained entrance to the temple and palace of the great king. We celebrated this on Ascension Day. He has pioneered this path and broken through from here to there. ‘The Lord would speak with Moses. … face to face, as one speaks to a friend. Then Moses would return to the camp; but his young assistant, Joshua, would not leave the tent.’ ur Joshua has gone in. He now sits in conversation with the king. Now a human being sits with God. One of us has made it. More than that even, it turns out that he is at home there.
Led by Moses, or by Elijah, or by David, or any of the individual heroes of the old testament, the people of God had a temporary and partial life. Their leader could pass on only as much as he had received. But Christ has received the full measure of God, and he is fully able to pass on what he has received from the Father, so we will not run out of life. This glory will keep coming at us, refreshing and renewing us. He has now attached us to the people of God. They, or rather, we, stand in a line that stretches back through the door of the palace, outside across the courtyard and out into the world. This procession stretches all the way from there to here, where we are. We are part of the procession that stretches from the Son and that loops around, and connects up, all the world. Our leader is at one end, we at the other. We do not see him, but for him this procession is one with him, is part of him. The whole procession, and all the people in it, us included, are made impregnable by his protection. His Spirit holds together the whole long train of the people of the Son.
Now we are not under any of these assistants of the Son. Now we are under the Son direct. We have his whole and undivided attention. All the powers we identified individually with his men in the old testament, with Samuel, or Solomon, or Isaiah, are available to us. The Spirit is the combined forces of all these witnesses who now together make one single witness, and one invincible force. The Spirit is the Son and his army, united in one person. That army serves and distinguishes the Son. The Spirit has raised the Son from us. Now he has been sent to us. The Spirit, with all this mighty army, has become our servant. He is on call. We have only to ask, to pray – and he will teach us to pray. He will not give us what we cannot cope with, no unmetered power is put into our irresponsible hands, but he will always make us ask for more. The Spirit will make us grow. He will raise us. And he will raise us from one another. Who is the Spirit? The Spirit is that very same Jesus Christ, plus his whole people. The Spirit is the fierce glory of God, visible as the fire of Sinai, now ‘tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.’ The Spirit is God, at work, securing, and serving, his people. We celebrate him today, at Pentecost.
What does the Spirit do? ‘Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.’ (2 Corinthians 3.17) The Holy Spirit makes us free. The Spirit makes us confess Christ. To confess Christ is to renounce all other masters. Of course we modern Westerns are convinced that we are free agents, that we have no masters and so do not need to be freed from any and therefore have no need of release and salvation. But the Christians know that even the most sophisticated of us are under many masters and authorities, and they are more powerfully our masters because we cannot easily say who or what they are. But the Christians name Christ and thereby they defy other masters and celebrate the end of their divisive power that keeps all humanity at cross-purposes.
The Spirit makes you distinct from me and me distinct from you. He will make each of us different from all the others. At the moment you are not nearly as different from me as you think. But you will be made more different and more yourself – and your difference will make us all glad. We will be given all the individuality that we will never get by strenuously asserting our differences over one another. So here is one thing that has to be said at Pentecost. We are being made persons. We are made social and given our individuality. We who are presently curved in on ourselves, are being uncurled, and allowed for the first time to stand upright and act as social beings. We are ceasing to be shy, or sullen adolescents. In Christ we are being made grown ups.
The Holy Spirit is our Jesus Christ, to whom we are all now visible. He can grasp and hold us, but we cannot lay a hand on him. Indeed we cannot lay an eyeball on him. We do not see Jesus. It is always tempting to think we would like to meet Jesus – but I assure you if we met him the results would be the same as before. We would find him impossible and would lay hands on him, seize him and hand him over. What would be the result of that? Once we laid our hands on him but he did not use any power against us, did not raise his arms against us, but let us bind him and put him to death. No he is not visible to us as a single man we can identify and grasp. We can no longer take him on our own terms. He is not exposed to us, and so we do not see him, until he has made us holy – but we are completely exposed to him. Still, we have the name to call him by, and we can call him.
What is new as a result of Pentecost? The whole world is promised land, he stands with his whole people on the edge of it, and now today he goes in, taking us with him, takes hold of it. He comes to bring rescue and release to all the captives. Pentecost is the moment when the whole force of God enters his people and they go in to take, not as last time just the land of Israel, but now the whole world. Moses could not go on. He is carrying too much baggage now. Jesus will carry much more than that, the sin not only those of his own people, but all of ours as well. He will carry the sins of the gentiles too. Yet he will go in, and will take us in. Five weeks ago our Joshua stood at the Jordan – and plunged in. He crossed over – this is the cross. And this standing on one side and then plunging in and crossing over is what is happening in the Book of Acts. The Lord, who is now supreme general, no longer touchable (Spirit) decided to hear the pleas of the poor in every nation and to go and rescue them. He has crossed over, and we must follow.
But we cannot see Jesus. Why isn’t Jesus visible any more? This is what we want to know. ‘And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.’ (2 Corinthians 3.18) The Son is making himself visible, to the world. He is making himself visible – as us. The Son is making himself visible, but very gently, so that this time no one gets hurt, but so that everyone is drawn into the very slow procession at one end of which Jesus is visible and ready to receive us the minute he has readied us to step into his light without damage. We are being very slowly filled with light and light-proofed, so we can be where he is. The Son sends us the Spirit, and the Spirit is fitting us together and integrating us into the whole huge figure of the Son. The Son making himself slowly visible. This is not at all to say that we are the Son – but that we are his work, not our own, that we are caught up into a project that is far bigger than us, but which is transforming us into something completely new, and unanticipated, the body of Christ. The Holy Spirit is making us – making us members of the Son. This process we think of in terms of Jesus’ being visible is really the process of our being made holy, that is being filled with the light that floods from him.
What a lot of things Pentecost means. It is too much to take in all at once. For that reason it is now unpacked in course of the season of Trinity. We play out the whole life of the Pentecost people through the next months of the Church year. Let me remind you of a few things that this Pentecost time of the Spirit means.
The Spirit is the Spirit of the Son, and so of his cross and his discipleship. He brings the whole people of God together to make them publicly one people before all this divided world. He shows that the great power of division is broken and that all things are being healed and brought together. The Spirit intends to make us the people of the Son, that is to make us one, the Church that is catholic, and that means universal, and makes really many free and distinct persons. The Spirit unites and reconciles us and he gives us the real difference and individual identity we do not yet have. The Holy Spirit make us intervene and intercede for the world, and makes us ask urgently for more the gifts and services of the Son, and we make this appeal together publicly. We beg, we pray, we intercede. He does this by giving us all the gifts of the Spirit, which are means by which we speak and explain Christ to the world and the world to Christ, in love, which means in his service. Every Church service is the public demonstration of the progress of Christ to us that picks us up and takes us to the Father. It makes us a vocal thankful people.
To him be all might, majesty, and glory, now and in the ages to come, Amen.