Sunday 31st May

Pentecost Sunday

Prayer

Mighty and gracious God,

It is with gladness that we come now in Your presence,

bringing to You the worship of humble, grateful hearts.

We adore You,

creator and sustainer of all things,

giver of every good and perfect gift,

for the numberless blessings we have experienced in our lives,

for Your goodness and mercy

that have followed us all our days.

God of overflowing generosity,

we praise You for the supreme gift of Your love

in the coming of Your Son, our Saviour,

the Lord Jesus Christ,

and for the God You have shown us to be in Him.

Today we remember with joy

the coming of the Spirit from the risen, ascended Christ at Pentecost,

upon all those gathered:

dispelling their fears,

clearing their vision,

uniting them as one,

equipping them for mission.

Among us today,

and among Your people wherever they are gathered,

may the same Spirit of Pentecost

minister grace in these ways to each of us too.

May our hearts and lives be open

to the wind of the Spirit,

the giver of life,

that we may be energised to live more faithfully

as members of your coming kingdom

and as joyful witnesses to the good news of Jesus Christ.

God of mercy and grace,

We remember that when the Spirit came down at Pentecost,

not all were glad.

There were some who poured scorn on this coming,

and mockery on the now Spirit-filled disciples.

Forgive us when,

in fear and folly,

we close our minds and hearts to Your Spirit at work.

Forgive us when we refuse to acknowledge the Spirit’s action in others

and in situations out-with our own comfort zones.

Forgive us when we quench the Spirit,

choosing darkness over light,

and stunt the growth of the fruit of the Spirit in our lives.

Forgive us when we block the Spirit’s constant promptings

to share the good news of Jesus with others,

by word and loving action.

Forgive us when we choose safe and comfortable paths

in place of the sometimes risky – even dangerous –

routes of service and mission

to which the Spirit directs us.

Cleanse our hearts by Your Spirit, Lord,

to be Your dwelling place.

Fill us anew,

that we may be bold and humble bearers

to a world in crying need

of the sovereign, just and gentle rule of Jesus,

in whose name we pray.

Let us continue our prayer by praying the words of the Lord’s Prayer …

Our Father, who art in heaven,

Hallowed be thy name.

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,

On earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,

And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation,

But deliver us from evil.

For thine is the kingdom,

The power and the glory,

For ever and ever,

Amen.

 

Readings Acts 2: 1 – 21

                  John 20: 19 – 23

 

Looking at Acts first - this familiar Pentecost passage needs to be seen in the context of Acts as a whole. The book is framed by the ideas of the ‘kingdom of God’ and the ‘lordship of Christ’ (1:3, 6; 28:31). Throughout its story, we see the disciples’ original, very Israel-centred, understanding of ‘kingdom’ (1:6) expand to embrace a wider perspective which takes account of God’s world-wide purposes achieved through God’s people Israel (see, for

example, Peter’s developing understanding, as expressed in 10: 34-48).

The Pentecost event is presented as marking the essential equipping and enabling of the

disciples to fulfil their God-given task. This is summarised in 1:8: it is to “be my witnesses in

Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”. Luke’s strong emphasis

on the Spirit as the enabler of mission is reflected in both his books: in his gospel, in the

coming of the Holy Spirit on Jesus as His baptism, so that He is equipped to enter His public

ministry (Luke 3: 20-21; 4: 1, 14, 18); and similarly, now, at Pentecost on His followers,

equipping them to continue Jesus’ mission in the world by proclaiming to one and all His

true identity (1: 5, 8; 2: 33).

The task of the Church is therefore always to point beyond itself to the saving realm of God, the kingdom, which is coming, in which the crucified, risen and exalted Jesus is the one true Lord.

Peter’s Pentecost address proceeds to focus on the true identity of Jesus (vv.22-36).

Through the slightly altered quote from the prophet Joel (2: 16-21), with its promise

of the pouring of the Spirit on “all flesh” and the universal offer of salvation, Pentecost is

portrayed as the beginning of the end time. God is now bringing human history to its

consummation and all are invited to be participants in the project as members of a radically

inclusive new community (2:17). Central in the fulfilling of this purpose is gospel

proclamation in the Spirit’s power, as strikingly illustrated here in Peter’s address.

The Spirit’s coming at Pentecost also establishes the unity in diversity of the Church which

God always intends. The variety of geographical areas represented by those present at

Pentecost and the Spirit-facilitated communication of the good news in their many

languages (2: 5-13) may not exactly have been a reversal of Babel but they represent the

opposite reality of Babel’s confusion and fragmentation.

The linking of Pentecost with the giving of the law and the Sinai experience between God and man through the phenomena of sound, fire and speech (2:2-4 and Exodus 19:16-19), has the effect of underlining the sheer ‘newness’ of what Pentecost represented. The Torah is fulfilled by the Spirit.

The coming of the Spirit brings comfort, hope and joy to individual disciples. More than

that, it equips them to become a radically alternative community of grace, pointing always

to the sovereign rule of Jesus Christ over the world (see 2: 42-47). In our present circumstance of gradual emergence from lockdown, we face a new model or church and a new way of doing things together. Let us use this passage as a way to remind ourselves and encourage others, that we are filled with the Spirit, we live in the Spirit and we should be guided by the Spirit as we move forward in the work of the Spirit and the mission of the church. 

 

And so, we move to John’s gospel.

It is evening on the first Easter Day and we are at the point where the disciples are gathered behind locked doors in Jerusalem, afraid of what might imminently happen to them as known followers of the now disgraced and crucified Jesus (v.19).

Then, all of a sudden, Jesus was standing among them, in a manner described briefly by John, and there is a rapid switch of emotion from fear (19) to joy (20).

Twice Jesus pronounced the powerful words of greeting, ‘Peace (shalom) be with you’

(vv.19, 21) and, as an act of self-identification, showed them His hands and side.

Archbishop Temple – archbishop of Canterbury from 1942 – 1944 - reminds us that Jesus’ wounds are his credentials to the suffering race of human beings’. Temple quotes from the poem, ‘Jesus of the Scars’, written by Edward Shillito in the immediate aftermath of the horrors of WWI. The first and last verses of the poem are as follows:

 

If we have never sought, we seek Thee now;

Thine eyes burn through the dark, our only stars;

We must have sight of thorn-pricks on Thy brow,

We must have Thee, O Jesus of the Scars.

 

The other gods were strong, but Thou wast weak;

They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;

But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,

And not a God has wounds, but Thou alone.

 

In the subsequent joy of the disciples (v.20), we see the fulfilment of Jesus’ earlier promise to them (14:18; 16:20-22). Three cameos present Jesus’ subsequent words and actions in

their presence that evening.

First, in the so-called Johannine ‘Great Commission’ (“As the Father has sent me, so I send

you”, v.21), Jesus seems to intend that His world mission now continues and becomes

effective in theirs.

Secondly, in His breathing on them and saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit”, (v.22), there is a

clear reference to the creation narrative where the breath (ruach) of God brought forth new life (Genesis 1:2) and an anticipation of the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost. The same essential link as in Luke is therefore established between the sending on mission and the prior empowering of the Spirit (cf. Luke 24: 49; Acts 1: 4-5). New creation is always dependent on the activity of God’s ruach.

Thirdly, in Christ’s peace and by His Spirit, they are to pronounce the forgiveness of sins to

all who believe in Jesus and ‘to warn the world that sin is a serious, deadly disease, and that

to remain in it will bring death’. They do so, not in order to exert power over others, but

‘because this is God’s message to a muddled, confused and still rebellious world’ (Tom

Wright – Bishop of Durham 2003 - 2021). Once again, this passage can help to inspire us to preach God’s message in our world today – by whatever means we may be able to do so. Despite the difficult circumstances we are all facing, we need to stand firm and sure in the love of Jesus Christ, strengthened by his Spirit and ready to share that love and hope with all those around us.

 

Prayer

Lord,

On Sunday,

The first day of creation,

Recreate us in your image

So that we may recover the good earth

And be at peace with all your creatures –

On this day refresh us by your Holy Spirit.

 

Spirit of the Living God

Fall afresh on me.

 

On Sunday

The day of Pentecost,

Bring healing and wholeness

To broken bodies,

Broken hearts

And broken spirits,

That your people may rise,

Filled with your Spirit

And the knowledge of your presence in their lives.

On this day refresh us by your Holy Spirit.

 

Spirit of the living God

Fall afresh on me.

 

On Sunday

The first day of the week,

Enable us to look back and to look forward

And to gain strength from your perspective

That all will be well in your goodness and grace.

On this day refresh us by your Spirit.

 

Spirit of the living God

Fall afresh on me.

On Sunday

The day of rest,

Bring refreshment

To those who work too hard,

Those who struggle with worry about their situation

Especially in the present pandemic circumstance,

To those who mourn the loss of a loved one,

 On this day refresh us by your Spirit.

 

Spirit of the living God

Fall afresh on me.

 

Spirit of the living God

We thank you for Sunday,

The day of the Son,

The bright risen Son

Whose warmth and light

Has dispelled the darkness,

Renewed the day

And shows us the road to everlasting life.

 

Spirit of the living God

Fall afresh on me.

Amen.