This Sunday is Pentecost Sunday, the day we celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles, marking the official launch of the church. It is the day to remember the church is not merely a building or a 501(c)(3) charitable organization.
The church is not a social club or a school of moral training. The church founded by Jesus Christ is the Spirit-breathed and Spirit-sustained body of Christ on the earth. We are reminded on the Pentecost that human effort alone does not keep the church afloat above the turbulent waters of destruction and death. The church remains buoyant by the presence of God’s very Spirit. On Pentecost Sunday, we are all allowed to be a little Pentecostal, so grab your tambourine and white handkerchief and feel free to let loose with an enthusiastic “hallelujah” or two.
I believe in the Holy Spirit and I always have. I was baptized and grew up in the faith as a teenager in a church that was a bit nervous about the Holy Spirit. They believed in the Holy Spirit, because they were a Christian church after all, and to be Christian is to worship God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. While they confessed a doctrinal belief in the Holy Spirit, they were very nervous about the work of the Spirit. As a young believer eager to learn and grow in the faith, I read Scripture faithfully and I began to notice the recurring accounts of miracles and healings in the Gospels and in the Book of Acts. I read about the gifts of the Holy Spirit including speaking in tongues, a phenomenon present on the day of Pentecost. I read with great interest about the Holy Spirit and his activity in and through the ministry of the church, but in this church I was taught that these things simply do not happen today. We had the Scripture, the completed canon of authorized and inspired texts, and so we no longer needed all the works of the Spirit found the Bible, particularly things like tongues, prophecy, dreams, visions, and miraculous healings.
The cessationist-views of this church caused them to deny the present-day reality of over 600 million vibrant Christians in Pentecostal and charismatic churches. While their view left me confused, it did not stop me from encountering the Holy Spirit both now and then. In my twenty-five year journey of following Jesus, I have had mystical encounters with the Holy Spirit including words of prophecy, miraculous healings, and yes seasons of praying in the spirit. I want to live my life fully immersed in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, but I don’t want to be a religious weirdo. The reason Pentecostalism and the charismatic movement has received received criticism by some in the body of Christ is because some, but certainly not all, in the movement have done and said things in the name of the Holy Spirit that are just plain weird, reflecting a strange Christianity that in very few ways reflects the faith once delivered to the saints.The weirdness and religious fanaticism by some, but certainly not all, Pentecostal/charismatic Christians is rooted in part in a rejection of the creeds, councils, and wisdom of the historic church.
We need the Holy Spirit and we need the creeds.
We need the power of the Spirit and we need the writings of the church fathers.
We need the gifts of the Spirit and we need the traditions of the church.
We need an openness to the surprising work of the Holy Spirit and we need serious, theological study of Scripture.
One of the ways we can seek to meet both of these needs is to consider the Holy Spirit using “Come, Creator Spirit,” a 9th century Latin hymn to the Holy Spirit written by Rabanus Maurus, a German monk and archbishop in the 800s. This hymn began to be sung or chanted on Pentecost Sunday in the Catholic Church and used during the consecration of bishops as way to invite the presence of the Spirit. It was written in Latin (Veni Creator Spiritus) and later translated into various European languages. It was a hymn brought over by the Protestant reformers and it is still a hymn sung in both Catholic and Protestant churches. It is one of the few hymns that has bridged the divide between Catholics and Protestants, a beautiful sign of the work of the Spirit to make us one. Consider the words of this ancient hymn:
Come, Creator Spirit, visit the minds of those who are yours;
fill with heavenly grace the hearts that you have made.
You who are named the Paraclete, gift of God most high,
living fountain, fire, love and anointing for the soul.
You are sevenfold in your gifts, you are finger of God’s right hand,
you, the Father’s solemn promise putting words upon our lips.
Kindle a light in our senses, pour love into our hearts,
infirmities of this body of ours overcoming with strength secure.
The enemy drive from us away, peace then give without delay;
with you as guide to lead the way we avoid all cause of harm.
Grant we may know the Father through you, and come to know the Son as well,
and may we always cling in faith to you, the Spirit of them both. Amen.
This is the English translation from Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa’s excellent book Come, Creator Spirit: Meditations on the Veni Creator (Liturgical Press, 2003), maybe the best book I have read on the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Here are some of the highlights from this tightly packed hymn.
“Visit the minds of those who are yours; fill with heavenly grace the hearts…” The Spirit who, according to the Nicene Creed is “the Lord, the giver of life, proceeding from the Father and the Son,” comes to visit both the minds and fill with grace the hearts of those he has made. The Holy Spirit does not simply fill our hearts; he also enlightens our minds. What turns Christians into religious fanatics or spiritual weirdos is when they think the Holy Spirit only touches the heart (i.e. the emotions, passions, and the affections of our soul) leaving our minds far behind. Not every emotional experience in a religious context is actually a work of the Spirit. He fills our hearts with heavenly grace. He pours out the love of God in our hearts not doubt, but he also enlightens and renews our minds. We need both.
“You who are named the Paraclete, gift of God most high, living fountain, fire, love and anointing for the soul…” Paraclete is the name Jesus gave to the Holy Spirit (John 14:26). The Spirit is the one called upon to help. He is given as a gift and he is received as a gift. The Holy Spirit is not something for which we grasp.
He is not a status to which we attain. He does not mark a deeper level of intimacy or spirituality. The Holy Spirit is God himself, nothing more and nothing less. In our desire for the Spirit, God is the giver and we are the receiver. He is the fountain of eternal life, and a fire burning away sin, igniting a desire in us for the things of God. He is love, the very love between the Father and the Son. He is anointing, not just an anointing to do, but an anointing to be; the power to become like Christ.
“You are sevenfold in your gifts…finger of God’s right hand…the Father’s solemn promise…” Historically, the seven gifts of the Spirit from Isaiah 11 are wisdom, understanding, counsel, courage, knowledge, piety, and the fear of the Lord. This is not an exhaustive list of gifts; we know there are more gifts of the spirit. The Spirit gives these gifts to individuals for the building up the church. The Spirit as God’s finger is not only the breath of God, but the touch of God. The place where God touches humanity. He is the promise of the Father, the promise of God to be with and to dwell with his people.
“Kindle a light in our senses, pour love into our hearts, infirmities of this body of ours overcoming with strength secure.” The Spirit illumines the beauty of God with the light of truth. He pours the love of God into our hearts and when we are weak, we find strength in the Holy Spirit. The love wherewith with love God and the strength necessary to live for God comes not from human effort alone, but from God himself.
“The enemy drive from us away, peace then give without delay; with you as guide to lead the way…” Here we see it is the Holy Spirit at work when we pray, “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” The Spirit drives away the accuser, the blamer, the satan, the devil and what does he give, but peace. The Father is the creator of peace. Jesus is the Prince of peace. The Spirit is the giver of peace. Along with love and joy and the other fruit, the Holy Spirit is working to produce peace among us.
“Grant we may know the Father through you, and come to know the Son as well, and may we always cling in faith to you, the Spirit of them both.” The Holy Spirit is not an energy force or a power emanating from God. The Holy Spirit along with the Father and the Son is the one God we worship. The Spirit tends to take a backseat in the operations of the Trinity pointing us back to the Father and the Son, particularly Jesus, who said: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:13-14 ESV)
This Pentecost Sunday give glory to the Father and to the Son, and especially to the Holy Spirit, and remain open to the surprising work of the Spirit in the life of the church and pray this:
O God, who on this day taught the hearts of your faithful people by sending to them the light of your Holy Spirit: Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things, and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
[The image is reproduced from: Лелекова О. В. Русский классический иконостас. Иконостас из Успенского собора Кирилло-Белозерского монастыря. 1497 год. В 2-х томах. М.: Индрик, 2011.]