Reflection by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 31 May 2020.
• First Reading: Acts 2: 1-21 (The coming of the Holy Spirit. The church gathered together in one place. Peter’s address.)
• Epistle: 1 Corinthians 12: 3b-13 (The gifts of the Spirit)
• Gospel: John 20: 19-23 (Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living waters)
It was about nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified Jesus and there on the cross He poured out His life for the whole of humanity. Nobody was to be excluded from the effects of Jesus’ self-giving for this was eternal and global in its effects.
But then there was another nine o’clock in the morning, also in Jerusalem, but this time in an upper room, and away from prying eyes. Whereas the death of Jesus at Golgotha was open and public – indeed crucifixion was intended to be just that, a sort of visual aid laid on by the Romans to ‘encourage the others’ the events of the Upper Room were intended to be more private.
In fact, as far as the disciples were concerned this was to be another time of worship together, this time with a community of 120.
And yes there were all there, Peter now restored from his denials and Thomas restored from doubt or a different kind of denial. The rest of the disciples restored from their flight and panic. The women were there and all were together in their prayers and worship.
And then it happened, the sound of strong winds, a new breath of life. What had been a gathering of disciples waiting on what Jesus had promised was to be filled with a new kind of life.
If Ezekiel’s dry bones were given life by the winds of God, then so also the disciples were to be given life far beyond ordinary breathing and thinking.
All aspects of life would be renewed – loyalties, affections, priorities, perspectives, even the way they responded to people that they did not particularly like but were commanded by Jesus to love.
Next were the tongues of fire, coming to all but dividing among each of them personally. Nobody was to be excluded, all were to be endowed. All were to be purified and given the same flame as the burning bush in the wilderness: alight but not consumed.
Given to all but not drained or reduced to ash. Yet what Jesus had done at Golgotha for the whole world, was being given a second outpouring.
Instead of the blood and sinew of the cross, there was to be the living reality and truth of Jesus, this time being taken out to all corners of the world by the outpouring and self-giving of Jesus’ disciples in every land and in every decade.
The day of Pentecost is not the birthday of an organization with committees and accounts and reports, even if these things are sometimes needed for people to work together in a common accord.
It is not about career structures, richly upholstered chairs, expense accounts or the pomp and ceremony of the important people of the world.
Rather it is about the life of Jesus in all parts of the world, communicated and made visible by frail and highly fallible people trying to serve their lord.
Yet the point is that for this service to be effective then it must be in the power and under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It cannot serve an agenda of personal power or prestige. It can only be out-pouring and self-giving, never self-serving or self-realizing.
It can only point towards Jesus Christ and never away from Him and certainly not towards the self. Its message will be the same as His and its authority will be His authority.
It can rejoice in variety but not in discord. It is united but not uniform, personal but not individualistic. Authoritative but not bossy. Loving but not sentimental. Principled but not judgmental or arrogant.
And so Paul was able to point to the varieties of the gifts of the Spirit and indeed to the ministries of the spirit, but always stressing their unity in Jesus Christ.
And later in the same epistle he wrote about love, not as a gift of the Spirit, which it is not, but a fruit of the Spirit which it is. He said more about this when writing to the Christians in Galatia.
But in the gospel passage Jesus was inviting all who were tired and thirsty to receive from Him that outpouring that never ceases and which always refreshes.
When life is stale and routine is tired, when the fear of death looms closer but peace with God seems to be so far away then Jesus says very simply, ‘Come to Me.’
If you dare to believe then you can also dare to receive. If you dare to trust that your sins and failures and compromises and the deepest issues of your life can find peace and healing, then they are already there in Jesus Christ.
He speaks of living waters rather than dull routine, an adventure in life rather than a reflection on the regrets of the past. The Holy Spirit was given to the body of believers so that they could live and live more abundantly, in ways that they never imagined let alone expected.
They were there to bring glory to God like lights in a candelabra or the pieces of a mosaic, or the notes of a symphony.
Jesus had given Himself for the sins of the world at Golgotha. At Pentecost He was giving Himself to the world through the body of those who believed in Him and were willing to let Him set the agendas of their lives.