A sermon given during the 10:30am Choral Eucharist, by The Rev’d Canon Jenny Wilson, on the 28th May 2023.

In the name of God, creating, redeeming, sanctifying, … Amen.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet, after being visited by his father’s ghost and learning that his uncle has Claudius murdered his father, spoke with angst, “The time is out of joint.” These words have echoed through time and find their expression when things are deeply amiss. Does it feel like this to us now? That the time is out of joint? That things are not quite right with the world.

Jesus quoted the prophet Isaiah:

You will indeed listen, but never understand,

   and you will indeed look, but never perceive.

 For this people’s heart has grown dull,

   and their ears are hard of hearing,

     and they have shut their eyes;

     so that they might not look with their eyes,

   and listen with their ears,

and understand with their heart and turn—

   and I would heal them.”

He seems to be saying that our eyes, our ears, our hearts, are dull and never understand. Jesus, too through Isaiah’s words expresses his longing that we would turn, that he might heal us.

And here we are, this day, our cathedral adorned in red, for it is the Feast of Pentecost, the feast of the coming of the Holy Spirit of Jesus. Is this, possibly, a day for such healing?

John V Taylor in his book The Go-Between God wrote this about the Holy Spirit

We so commonly speak about the Spirit as the source of power.

But in fact he enables us, not by making us supernaturally strong

but by opening our eyes.

Can we wonder that what this Feast Day is all about is God opening our eyes? Our ears, our hearts. That we might turn and God might heal us.

We have two readings on which to ponder particularly. The first is the reading from Acts Chapter 2 which tells the story of the sending of the Holy Spirit to the disciples just a few days after Jesus has ascended into heaven.

When the day of Pentecost has come, they are all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there comes a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it fills the entire house where they are sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appear among them, and a tongue rests on each of them. All of them are filled with the Holy Spirit and begin to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gives them ability.

This is Luke’s account and is certainly the one we associate most with this Pentecost feast day.

When the Holy Spirit comes there is rush like a violent wind, and there are tongues like fire that rest on each of the disciples.  The key sign, the critical purpose of these tongues of flame, is that people of many languages can understand the words of the disciples about Jesus. The people are baffled when they realise that the words of the Galileans are open to them and their hearts and minds can hear the good news of the truth of Jesus.

Communication is possible in a way that was not known before. Listening with their ears, the hearts and minds of those gathered are opened to a new truth by the presence of the Holy Spirit. This is the essence of the first account of the coming of the Holy Spirit as heard from the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. An opening of hearts and minds. To see the truth.

We heard as our gospel reading a second account of the coming of the Holy Spirit, the account found in John’s Gospel in the 20th Chapter, set after the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus encounters the disciples on the evening of the first day of the week, the doors of the house locked in fear.

Jesus says to the disciples, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he has said this, he breaths on them and says to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’

The first account of the coming of the Holy Spirit was about an opening of hearts and minds.

Reflecting on John’s account, the scholar David Ford, in his Theological Commentary of the Gospel of John, too, speaks of an opening. He writes:

‘”Opening” is a good description of what Jesus does here. The disciples are locked in and afraid. Jesus opens them up to himself, crucified and risen, and to his peace and joy in place of fear. He opens them out towards a future and toward the whole world by sending them as he was sent. He opens his mouth to speak and to breathe into them as God breathed life into Adam and to share the Holy Spirit. He opens up the past to a new future through forgiveness. There is no closure to the scene, no departure of Jesus.’[1]

Jesus’ peace and joy in the place of fear.

Peace and joy that opens the disciples up towards a future towards the whole world.

The key is his presence. It is a strange presence, that is true. The doors were locked, remember, and yet he came and stood among them. But it does seem that he was physically there. It is so critical that, after saying “Peace be with you,” for the first time, he showed them his hands and his side. This is no ghost. This is the one who was crucified. This is the one who spoke words of forgiveness from his cross, the one who cried out in abandonment, the one who gave his mother a home in his friend’s house, the one who gave himself into his father’s hands as he died. This human Jesus who wrestled with the awful demands of death is the resurrected Jesus who brings peace and joy and forgiveness to his frightened disciples.

It is because he has endured such things that he can give us peace. Whatever we struggle with, he has been there before, perhaps not in the quite the same way, but we know he has endured great pain and great fear and in all of it he has died forgiving. His presence gives peace. Peace and joy in the place of fear.

And the disciples rejoiced when they saw him. After they saw his hands and his side, notice. They rejoiced when they knew it was him.

Jesus then speaks words of peace again and he sends them into the world. “As the father has sent me so I send you.” It is as if he is handing on the batten to us. And yet he doesn’t stay behind, he accompanies us. Just as he was sent into the world to bring the good news of God’s love and forgiveness so we are sent into the world with the same message. What a beautiful thing we are given to do. That we might carry this story, this truth, this possibility of forgiveness and love grounding the world in hope.

Jesus breathes on the disciples as he says “receive the Holy Spirit.” The word for breath in the Greek text strongly resonates with the word in the Genesis creation account, “God breathed into the human being formed from the ground the breath of life.” The word also strongly resonates with the story of the dry bones in the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel. Ezekiel prophesied that the dry bones would be breathed upon by the spirit of God. The new life of creation, the new life of the restoration of the dry bones, this is the breath that Jesus gives to the disciples when he urges them to receive the Holy Spirit. This is not a gentle breeze. This is about the giving of life. The opening, perhaps, of eyes.

In John’s Gospel, this second account of the coming of the Holy Spirit, there is one other important thing. And that is forgiveness. There is a healing of the past. There is forgiveness. Our eyes are opened to the presence of the one who died forgiving, to the possibility of that forgiveness healing any memories of sin that trouble us, and the possibility, accompanied by Jesus, of our forgiving others.

We so commonly speak about the Spirit as the source of power.

But in fact he enables us, not by making us supernaturally strong

but by opening our eyes.

It is not just this day, of course, that we might wonder where it is we closed in, unable to hear the truth, unable to see it, unable perhaps to know ourselves forgiven or to forgive another. It is not just this day. On this Feast of Pentecost, we remember the Holy Spirit’s arrival as a particular event, only so that we may know this Spirit of Jesus as present at all times and in all places. On any day when we might cry, “The time is out of joint”, things are not right with the world. That whenever we cannot hear the truth our ears might be opened, whenever we are closed in by guilt, God’s forgiveness might set us free, whenever we cannot see, God might open our blind eyes, whenever our hearts are shut in, we might understand with our hearts and turn towards God’s healing. And then, … That we might carry this story, this truth, this possibility of forgiveness and love grounding the world in hope, we might carry this story out into the world.

[1] David F. Ford The Gospel of John: A Theological Commentary p403.