After a challenging week for friends and family, I was glad to go to church, and as I stepped into the welcoming nave of Saint Peter’s Oakland, I wondered what God would show me, what gift He would give. For never have I left a Mass without fulness, surprise, and delight. Never have I left empty handed, or for that matter, empty hearted. Today was no exception.
Through the sweet billowing incense, I could see the tabernacle draped in red, for Pentecost is one of the few feast days using this liturgical color (generally used for the Holy Spirit and martyrs). Our celebrant wore a red chasuble, and with the chancel and central aisle carpeted in red, the church was ablaze.
And rightly so, for Pentecost is the festival of the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples in tongues of fire. Christ had promised he would send the comforter to them once he ascended to Heaven. So the motley band of faithful watched and waited, powerless, somewhat afraid, probably wondering what would come next. For they were without their Lord, and they had not yet received Him in the form of the Holy Spirit. They were comfortless, without strength, without power.
How like today, I thought, as I gazed upon the red veil of the tabernacle. How often we feel distanced from God, partly by a dry secular culture demanding our attention, partly by our own waywardness, our lack of prayer life. And how good it is to return on Sunday, or during the week, and meet Him in the Eucharist, unite with Him.
I prayed the fire of Pentecost would descend upon our culture, upon our people, upon our parish, upon my family. I prayed, Take not thy Holy Spirit from me.
And, as our good preacher explained, with the descent comes the gifts: the wind, the fire, the words.
Scripture tells us that the Spirit descended like “a rushing mighty wind.” This is true holy power, breathed upon each disciple then, and breathed upon us today, the literal breath of God, the breath of life.
We are told they saw “cloven tongues like as of fire” that sat upon their heads, and I recalled Moses and the burning bush that did not consume. Just so, these tongues of fire brought to these faithful the warmth of love, the fire of passion, fulfilling and not consuming.
The third gift of this great descent was the ability to “speak with other tongues,” so that men from far away nations understood the disciples when they spoke of the “wonderful works of God.” The confusion of Babel is now reversed through the depth and fervor of love.
The disciples were the first Church, and these gifts were given to the Church, and through the centuries, the gifts were passed from bishops (the apostles were the first bishops) to bishops to priests to each of us, in the laying on of hands in the sacraments of consecration, ordination, baptism, confirmation. Through the Church, we breathe the breath of God. We burn with the love of God. We speak of the wonderful works of God, and are understood.
For indeed, they are wonderful works – His coming among us, taking on flesh, pulling us up with Him, returning to us in the Eucharist. And Pentecost, fifty days after Easter, is appropriately called Whitsunday in the English Church, a traditional day of Baptism in which the candidates wore white. It was a day God breathed His strength and love upon the newly born believers, so that each would have the words and power to not “be ashamed to confess Christ crucified.”
Once again I left Saint Peter’s gifted with God.
Saint Peter’s Anglican Church, http://www.saintpetersoakland.com/, Sunday Mass: 8:00, 10:00 a.m. Sung Eucharist, Sermon and Church School.