On the Coming of the Holy Ghost

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Day of Pentecost, 2021

There is a pious tradition in the Church seems over the last several centuries to have been obscured or forgotten, but does not deserve to have been, it seems to me. That pious tradition is that on the road to Emmaus along with Cleophas walked Saint Luke himself; that it was Cleophas (who in Luke 24 is named) and Luke (who is not named) who were accompanied by a stranger along the route, Who opened to them the Scriptures (the books of Moses, the Psalms, the Prophets) and Who revealed Himself as Jesus as He took bread, blessed bread, broke bread, and gave them bread, and Who then revealed Himself as Jesus. This pious tradition, that Luke was the unnamed companion of Cleophas, was affirmed by no less a voice of Holy Tradition than Pope S. Gregory the Great (known in the East as S. Gregory the Dialogist), Gregory being very responsible for the re-planting of Christianity in the English lands in the sixth and seventh centuries, by sending monks led by Saint Augustine of Canterbury along with giving to Augustine extraordinary pastoral guidance through letters that Gregory wrote which we still have, being as they were preserved by the Venerable S. Bede, the great historian of the early English church.

It makes sense, I think, that Saint Luke was the other disciples on the road to Emmaus, because in his gospel account, Luke wrote so intimately of the whole experience, both along the road and in the house where Christ resurrected celebrated the Eucharist. Either there is something to S. Gregory’s suggestion, or it must have been the case that Luke was a phenomenally talented investigative reporter. Intimate details abound in the entire Emmaus story. This includes the important detail from Luke 24:32: “And they said to one another, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?’” And what this speaks to is the transformative power of Liturgy upon the heart; the transformative power of Christ in the Liturgy (of Word and Sacrament) upon the heart (upon our deepest being, upon our mind, upon our soul).

At Emmaus indeed was a Pentecost moment—we might call it a “micro-Pentecost moment”—for it is only in and by the power of the Holy Spirit is Jesus Crucified and Risen perceived and recognized. Micro-Pentecost moments abound in the New Testament writings, and even through all of Scripture. Mary Magdalene, for example, at the empty tomb also experienced a micro-Pentecost moment, when in hearing the supposed gardener speak her name, “Mary,” she perceived and recognized Jesus, only possible by the presence of the Holy Spirit. In the Upper Room later in that first Easter Day, after the Emmaus experience, Jesus came and stood in the midst of the 11 disciples and said “Peace  be with you.” He showed His Hands and His Side, and then said to them “Receive the Holy Spirit,” truly a micro-Pentecost moment. Certainly we can see the moment for Moses at the Burning Bush in a similar light. And preeminent perhaps of all, at the foot of the Cross as experienced by Blessed Mary and Saint John (and as described in his Gospel account), after Jesus had received the sour wine, He said “It is finished!” and gave up the Spirit—that is, in scriptural language, He handed the Spirit down upon Mary and John, a micro-Pentecost moment of unfathomable significance.

How then do we understand the Day of Pentecost given all these micro-Pentecost experiences? The staggering power of the Coming of the Holy Ghost to the 120 disciples who had prayed with one accord for nine days I think begins to be properly grasped if we take all the micro-Pentecost moments—all deeply soaked in Mystery beyond telling—and just not add them together, but multiply them together. These 120 people—Blessed Mary, the Holy Women including Mary Magdalene, Martha, Cleophas’ wife Mary, along with Peter, John, Mathias and the rest of the Twelve ordained Apostles, undoubtedly Saint Luke and perhaps Saint Mark—these 120 people experienced through their Liturgy in the Upper Room a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.

An analogy for us to understand what this “sound from heaven” was like is I think a symphony, a heavenly symphony. And in this symphony all the 120 disciples are accompanied by the patriarchs and prophets, accompanied and lifted up by the angelic choir—all the experiences of the 120 disciples coming together, experiences of Our Lord directly, experiences of our Lord mystically, experiences of our Lord as they now knew Him in Scripture opened by Him—experiences direct, mystical, and scriptural that the 120 disciples shared together in the Upper Room, which became over the nine days the womb of the Church. At Pentecost, the womb of the Upper Room indeed went boom. This Upper Room—so small in comparison to the entirety of creation, yet what took place in it now fills all creation—which is even too small for it. To the Upper Room, which is now every parish church, including ours, the Holy Spirit has come. Why? He has come that all of Christ’s Body, His people—you, me, and all of His Church—may rejoice ever more in His holy comfort being in us.

Homily: “On the Coming of the Holy Ghost”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on The Day of Pentecost, 2018.

In terms of centrality to the Christian experience, everything we do, indeed everything we are, revolves around Easter and the resurrection of Christ crucified. For if Christ is not raised, our faith is futile and we are still in our sins, and all who have fallen asleep are truly perished out of existence. Without Easter, much of what we do would be better characterized not by “Let us pray,” but “Let us play.” The rite of baptism would be an ineffectual ceremony of water, the Eucharist would be an empty symbol of bread and water, and on and on. Read more “Homily: “On the Coming of the Holy Ghost””

Homily: “On the Good Soil”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 10, Year A), 2017.

In our Collect this morning, we petition God to receive the prayers of His people who call upon Him so that they may understand and know what they ought to do. It is a simple request, but we should not be deceived by its simplicity and think it a mundane sort of question. Rather, let us regard this petition as a noble inquiry, one we should always be making, even daily—after all, our Collect contains the two central questions of serious discipleship asked by the first disciples to Saint Peter on the Day of Pentecost. The first was, “What does this mean?” and the second was “What shall we do?”

We could do far worse than make for ourselves a habit of asking these two questions whenever we are in prayer, or reading the Bible, or reflecting on a sermon. Asking these two questions are part of our responsibility, our responsiveness, to God and His loving initiative of coming to us with His Word. The first Christians’ response to God’s initiative on Pentecost was to ask these two questions—What does it mean? What shall we do?—and so we can see that part of the Gospel pattern we are to perceive and make our own is to ourselves ask these questions when we are presented with, or caught by, God and the claim He makes on us and our lives. Read more “Homily: “On the Good Soil””

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. Read more “Homily: “On Pentecost””