Homily: “On Pentecost”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Feast of Pentecost, 2017.

Although the Church in the West over the last century or two has not always treated this way, the Day of Pentecost is a celebration in the church year the theological importance of which is only surpassed by Holy Week culminating in Easter. Granted, its festivity usually comes in behind that of Christmas. Christmas even outpaces Easter Day in that regard. But just like the fable of the tortoise and the hare, Easter as a whole ends up taking the prize because whereas Christmas is twelve days, Easter has fifty.

The culmination of those Fifty Days is the Day of Pentecost, a day on which God taught, and teaches in the present tense, the hearts of His faithful people by sending to them the light of His Holy Spirit. Again it is worth bearing in mind that the biblical understanding of the word heart is much more than our emotions, but indeed refers to our entire being, the arena in which we encounter God—where He lives in us and where God speaks to us.

Pentecost is not about a subtle, nuanced dimension of theology; it does not teach a lesson that is the province of specialists; it does not present an experience available only to the mystical elite—Pentecost is a comprehensive, holistic drama that the Church intends to cut us to the heart; indeed to break open our hearts that we lift up to God, break them open like Jesus broke open the bread to reveal Himself abundantly and endlessly.

On the Day of Pentecost was an explosive energy of staggering proportions. All of creation groaned at the crowning and birth of the infant Church—and suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting—“they,” the twelve apostles and Blessed Mary, the Mother of God and the Mother of the Church, as Jesus taught in one of his last seven words from the Cross. And what where they doing together? They with one accord devoted themselves to prayer. The Holy Spirit came through prayer. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire.

And what came of this mighty wind and holy fire? What came of it was the birth of the Church, a Church gestating since its immaculate conception at the beginning of creation, a Church slowly coming to be through the patriarchs and prophets, through the angels and archangels, and through the chosen people of Israel despite their disobedience that constantly took them far from their Creator. The Church, now born and visible, began to know itself, and know the gifts given to it by God—gifts given in a variety, apportioned to each individual member of the Church according to the will of God. Yet the gifts apportioned individually are always for the benefit not of the individual primarily but for the benefit of the whole Body.

The Bible knows nothing of individual Christianity—“me, the Bible and God.” And the New Testament knows nothing of a community in a cocoon practicing religion in isolation from the rest of the world. Whereas at the Tower of Babel, God confused the one language of the people so that they would no longer understand each other, at Pentecost God does the opposite—disparate communities are made to understand each other because of Jesus, because they share in the Body of Christ and can understand each other because the mighty acts of God reach beyond the confinements of particular languages and customs. Christians understand each other when they share in the awe of how much God loves each and every one of us in the inmost reaches of our hearts. Christian understand each other when the basis for our relationship is awe and wonder.

Brothers and sisters, we have prayed over the previous nine days for the coming of the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit. We have done so in our desire to continue in Tazewell County the Mission of the Church that is born on this, the Day of Pentecost. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are the gifts God wants us give us for the work of Mission. Jesus tells us, “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” In prayer we have asked, we have sought, we have knocked. Today God gives us all that we need to replant Tazewell County with the mighty wind and fire of the Holy Spirit. We have been retooled for prayer, so that indeed we can pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Let us pray:

Come, great Paraclete, Father of the poor, Comforter of the blessed, fulfill the promise of our Savior who would not leave us as orphans. Enter our minds and hearts as you descended on the day of Pentecost upon the Mother of Jesus and upon His Apostles. Grant that every member of the Church may have a part in those gifts which were bestowed that day. O Holy Spirit, giver of every good and perfect gift, may the Father’s will be done in us and through us, and may you, O mighty Spirit, equal to the Father and the Son in Being and majesty, be praised and glorified for ever and ever. Amen.

Cover image “The Descent of the Holy Spirit” by bobosh_t is licensed under CC BY 2.0 / Cropped from original.