May 6, 2008
If asked what our churches—mainline, evangelical, Catholic, Orthodox—need most, the obvious answer is renewal by the power of the Holy Spirit. The history of revivals and awakenings from the first century to the twenty-first is the history of the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church. And so we pray, to use the words of an old prayer, “Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love.”
Having said that, let me note that Sunday is Mother’s Day. Most of us know this since ads for Mother’s Day sales and brunches have been lobbed in our general direction for several weeks. Mother’s Day is a very nice thing. After all, as some wag asked years ago, “Where would we be without our mothers?” My card is in the mail and my brother and I will send Mom flowers. I’m certain that Mother’s Day will be mentioned at church and we will all pray for our mothers during the pastoral prayer.
While I am all for mothers—mine and everyone else’s—and I am all for setting aside a special day to celebrate motherhood, Mother’s Day obscures the real importance of May 11, 2008: Sunday is also Pentecost.
Most Christians I talk with have no idea that Pentecost is coming. I suspect that most Protestant churches in America—particularly evangelical churches—will not even make a passing reference to this annual celebration of one of the most important events in history.
Pentecost commemorates the coming of the Holy Spirit on the disciples fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection. At his ascension Jesus promised, “[Y]ou will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The promise was fulfilled in a small room on a Sunday morning 2,000 years ago after the sound of a violent wind and the tongues of fire.
The Church then began to spread and continues to spread by the power of the Holy Spirit. In fact, were it not for the coming of the Holy Spirit, Jesus death and resurrection would have been in vain and in all likelihood would have been long forgotten by now. Without the coming of the Holy Spirit, there would be no Christians and no Church.
The Holy Spirit guided the apostles into all truth that the Scriptures might be written (John 16:13). The Holy Spirit guides every Christian into truth that we might receive Christ as he is freely offered in the Gospel (1 Thessalonians 1:5). The Holy Spirit provides the gifts to God’s people so that the message of Jesus can be communicated (1Corinthians 12:4-31). He pours God’s love into our hearts (Romans 5:5) and binds the whole Church into a spiritual unity (Ephesians 4:3).
The Westminster Shorter Catechism teaches that “The Spirit applies to us the redemption purchased by Christ, by working faith in us and thereby uniting us to Christ in our effectual calling” (Question 30). This is simply a ratification of St. Paul’s words, “[N]o one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1Corinthians 12:3).
The incarnation of Christ (Christmas) and his death and resurrection (Easter) would have no effect on the world were it not for the coming of the Holy Spirit (Pentecost). Thus I am convinced that we should celebrate Pentecost with the kind of vigor and excitement we show at Christmas and Easter.
So I want to be sure to wish everyone a Happy Mother’s Day, but maybe this year celebrating Mom can wait. Instead, bake a Pentecost cake, invite friends and family, and lay out a feast to honor God the Holy Spirit. As St. John Chrysostom, the fifth century Archbishop of Constantinople wrote, “Today we have arrived at the peak of all blessings, we have reached the capital of feasts, we have obtained the very fruit of our Lord’s promise.” That calls for a party.