Our reading is from Acts 2:1-21
We come to Pentecost or Whit Sunday. ‘Pentecost’ comes from the Greek reference to this being the fiftieth day since the final Sabbath of the Passover. ‘Whit’ comes from the Anglo-Saxon word meaning understanding. Both have something to tell us.
The followers of Jesus understood themselves to be a new community shaped by God. They walked in the footsteps of the Exodus community, people called and set free, those who travelled in hope and entered into God’s best promises. The Passover and the Last Supper were signs of a new relationship, a new covenant of hope.
On this day of Pentecost the friends of Jesus were doing as he commanded them to do and gathered together in fellowship. That is the context for the gift of the Holy Spirit. The name ‘Whit’ refers to the new understanding the received. That they are called together in order to be sent out into the world with Good News for all people.
Those who offer to read during services sometimes flinch when they are chosen to read at Pentecost, the list of languages can be a bit of tongue twister. But the point is that this new community is open to everyone, the good news is for outsiders, the church is given that hallmark as in the words of William Temple, “The Church is the only institution that exists primarily for the benefit of those who are not its members.”
The church is an institution, not an organisation. I think we often forget the distinction.
I said last week that people are using the word ‘bereft’ these days. It is a word that has come back into use more frequently. There is much we are missing. Many things we have lost. We are deeply aware of being separated from people we love.
I know that when I look through my diary I see things that haven’t happened. Events people have planned for and looked forward. Weddings. Baptisms. Today should have been our Confirmation service. Last week we missed Café Church, no bacon butties for the vicar. Next week we had a meal booked with friends. Everyone can tell of what they have lost.
Pentecost has a sense of what is lost. Jesus told his friends they had to let go of him so that they could receive something new, the Spirit of God, the Comforter. Remember that originally the word ‘comfort’ wasn’t about taking things easy, ‘comfort’ meant to challenge, to provoke. The gift of the Spirit sent the disciples out into the streets. The Spirit turns an inward gathered fellowship into an outward facing community.
Whitsun is about new understanding, seeing what is made new when we sense things taken away. So, for example, I noticed the bus stop in Little Budworth. Not many passengers waiting for public transport, but instead the bus stop was filled with books, there were seedlings planted in pots to be spread around the village so that sunflowers could grow, there were notices about help and support.
Within the community people created networks to cope with a changing way of life. And not just making good plans but also putting in place contingencies for what might happen if things get difficult. That is telling, people have contacted me saying all is well, we have good neighbours, but just in case…..and so far on a couple of occasions those contingency plans have been needed and they have worked.
So there is a sense of what we have lost, people still feel bereft, our churches are still closed, the pubs are shut, families are separated, life is hard. But we are also experiencing a new Whitsuntide, we have some new understandings, we are seeing things, and people, and ourselves, differently. Like the sunflowers, those are fragile shoots, whether they survive and grow and flower remains to be seen.
When we experience loss it is painful, but it can sometimes be the space into which something new can enter. That is Pentecost and Whitsun, a community on the move open to new understanding.
Holy Spirit, sent by God,
ignite in us your holy fire;
strengthen us with the gift of faith,
revive us with the breath of love,
and renew through us the face of this earth,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
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