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Lindemann on Whitsunday: The Feast of Pentecost

by revalkorn ~ June 6th, 2011

THE FEAST OF PENTECOST, WHITSUNDAY

This last of three great festivals closes the Quinquagesima following Easter. The fifty-day period is wholly festal. In ancient days games and plays were forbidden. No fasts were prescribed. All elements of joy were restored in the Services and emphasized. Prayers were said while standing and not in a kneeling position. Whitsunday is not an independent festival but the completion and the conclusion of Easter. Fifty days ago we rose with Christ to a new life. Fifty is seven times seven plus one. Seven stands for completeness and fullness. Seven times seven is completeness brought to perfection, complete completeness. Fifty days ago we were restored to the life in God and were born anew as God’s children. Like newborn babes we longed for the pure spiritual milk. We grew up in the home of Christ’s Church, unworried and happy, as true children do. As we grew older, the Church prepared us for the time when we should realize that the unclouded childhood is a passing thing, that we are strangers and aliens, that we must suffer. This preparation began as early as the Third Sunday after Easter. Now at Pentecost we are declared of age.

We approach this high festival with exceeding joy. On no other feast do we sing as in this day’s Preface, “Whereat the whole earth rejoices with exceeding joy,” and as in the Introit, “Let the righteous be glad; let them rejoice before God; yea, let them exceedingly rejoice.” We observe the Feast with a strong and firm faith in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in the Church and in the soul. But because the Church and our soul is not perfected as yet, we must pray fervently as in the Gradual, “Come, Holy spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful.” To celebrate Pentecost properly we must be convinced that today the miracle of the first Pentecost is mystically repeated, as the Preface states, “Poured out on this day the Holy Spirit, as He had promised.”

The name “Pentecost” came into Christian use from Jewish circles. The Septuagint gave it to the Jewish festival which coincided with the Christian commemoration. It was preferred to the Latin Quinquagesima to avoid confusion, since the latter is the name also for one of the pre-Lent Sundays. In the early fathers’ writings the name “Pentecost” is used in a general sense of the entire period of fifty days and in a restricted sense as denoting the day that ends this period.

“Whitsunday,” the English name, probably is derived from White Sunday. Some scholars derive “Wit” from “Wisdom,” which would refer to the descent of the Sevenfold Spirit with the gift of wisdom, the old English “wit.” Others have tried to force a very improbable derivation from the German Pfingsten. Without entering upon the controversy, it may be stated that the Jews wore white garments for their festival celebration. In the early Christian Church, Pentecost was of equal standing with Easter as a time for Baptism. The northern churches particularly preferred Pentecost to Easter as the day of Baptism for considerations of climate, and the later festival became their Dominica in albis. The candidates were, of course, dressed in white garments.

Pentecost is one of the two earliest festivals of the Church. The original day fell on an ancient Jewish festival, the Feast of Weeks. “You shall observe the feast of weeks, the first fruit of wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the year’s end” (Ex. 34:22). “You shall count seven weeks; begin to count the seven weeks from the time you first put the sickle to the standing grain. Then you shall keep the feast of weeks to the Lord your God with the tribute of a free-will offering from your hand, which you shall give as the Lord your God blesses you; and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God” (Deut. 16:9-11). This feast was also called Pentecost in pre-Christian times. It fell exactly seven weeks after the Passover. It marked the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai, therefore the institution of the Jewish Church. But it was observed more as a festival of thanksgiving for the completed harvest, when two loaves made of the wheat of the sheaves first gathered, were offered to the Lord. The fathers did not fail to make use of the parallel afforded by the founding of the Jewish Church and of the Christian Church on this day. Of course, the Christian observance commemorates the descent of the promised Comforter, as indicated by the Epistle and the Introit.

The Introit. “The Spirit of the Lord filleth the world. Alleluia! Let the righteous be glad; let them rejoice before God; yea, let them exceedingly rejoice. Alleluia! Alleluia! Let God arise; let His enemies be scattered; let them also that hate Him flee before Him.”

The first sentence of the Antiphon is from the apocryphal book The Wisdom of Solomon (1:7). From this time on the Spirit lives in the hearts of all people. He speaks in the same language to all, whereas sin confused the tongues. Psalm 68 sings of the victorious march of the Church through the ages and is one of the most majestic hymns of the Old Testament, truly the Pentecostal Psalm.

The Collect. “O God, who didst teach the hearts of Thy faithful people by sending to them the light of Thy Holy Spirit, grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things and evermore to rejoice in His holy comfort.”

This is the well-known and much-used prayer to the Holy Spirit, asking for true insight and comfort. It is rich in its wealth of Christian teaching and holy prayerful desire. Truly a prayer for this day, it looks backward and forward. “Who didst teach the hearts” refers back to the promise, the separation, the expectation. We recall the direct promise of the Spirit and His office. “Thy faithful people” has us think of the Epistle, where “they were all together in one place,” even Thomas. “Grant us” the fruit of the Apostles’ witness in all the world, “by the same Spirit” who taught them and all who followed in their train age after age “a right judgment in all things.” The Holy Gospel points to the right judgment: “If any man love Me, he will keep My words.” Grant us “evermore to rejoice in His holy comfort,” as our Lord said in the Holy Gospel: “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you…. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

The Epistle (Acts 2:1-13). This is the account of the historical miracle. This miracle has not been completed in us. As long as we live and as long as the Church is in this world, the tongues of fire must descend on us. Therefore the prayer of the Gradual.

The Gradual. “Alleluia! Alleluia! Thou sendest forth Thy Spirit, they are created, and Thou renewest the face of the earth. Alleluia! Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful, and kindle in them the fire of Thy love. Alleluia!”

The first verse is from Psalm 104, the second is not a word of Scripture but from the Sequence Veni, Sancte Spiritus. Note the prayer for the continuation of the Pentecostal miracle: “Come, fill the hearts of the faithful,” and note that the gift of love is requested.

The Proper Sentence. “Alleluia! Thou sendest forth Thy Spirit, they are created, and Thou renewest the face of the earth. Alleluia!”

The Gospel (John 14:23-31). For the last time in His farewell address our Lord speaks of the Holy Spirit. In describing the Spirit’s function, He states that the Spirit makes us the temple of the Triune God, which is a favorite thought of St. Paul and of the primitive Church. The Spirit gives us the gift of peace. He supplies the spirit of martyrdom. Our Lord’s statement that He and the Father will come to the man who loves the Lord Jesus and keeps His Word, and that they will make their home with him, does not mention the Holy Spirit. Of course, both the Father and the Son come and abide in and through the Spirit. Nevertheless, it is well to keep in mind that nothing more is said about the Father’s in-dwelling through grace. We have accustomed ourselves to pray: “Our Father who art in heaven.” Our Lord did not teach us to say: “Our Father who dost live in our souls.” According to our human way of looking at it, we are not inclined to think of the Father’s indwelling in the soul. We stress the indwelling of the Second Person much more. There are many references in the Holy Scriptures to a very intimate presence of Christ in the man of grace. In John 15 our Lord speaks again and again of our abiding in Him and of His abiding in us. But on Pentecost we are naturally inclined to emphasize that in the man of grace the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is the most intensive of all. This is done more effectively if we bear in mind what our Lord said beginning with verse 15. Perhaps this was the reason the Book of Common Prayer includes this passage in the Holy Gospel. “I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Counselor [Paraclete], to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth … ; you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.” Note the threefold emphasis or repetition in order that we may be properly impressed, “to be with you forever, He dwells with you, and He will be in you.” Of St. Peter we read that he was filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:8). Ananias was sent to lay his hands on Saul that he might be filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:17). Of St. Paul we read that he was filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:9). Elizabeth and Zacharias were filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:41,67). Note the forceful expressions in the Liturgy. The Introit announces that the Spirit of the Lord fills the earth. The Epistle states “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” In the Gradual we pray that the Holy Spirit fill the hearts of the faithful. The Preface declares that the ascended Lord “poured out” the Holy Spirit.

The Proper Preface. “Who ascended above the heavens and, sitting on Thy right hand, poured out on this day the Holy Spirit, as He had promised, upon the chosen disciples; whereat the whole earth rejoices with exceeding joy.”

OUTLINE FOR SERMON ON THE EPISTLE

From the festivals commemorating the mission of our Lord we turn to the mission of the Church, by which Christ’s mission is perpetuated in all ages and extended through the world. Whitsunday is the birthday of the Church, on which the life of the Spirit was given, and we are to consider both how it came and what it is.

The Birth of the Church

A. Its Time and Place. The time when the Church came into being was the Festival of Pentecost, the day remembrance was made every year of the writing of the Law on tables of stone; therefore it was fitting that on this day the Holy Spirit should come, who should write upon the heart the new law of liberty (Jer. 31:33). As the festival of harvest (Lev. 23:17) Pentecost fitly witnessed the first ingathering of souls, the first swaths cut by the Savior’s sickle and made into the bread of God. The place was significant also, for “they were all together in one place,” and so the Holy Spirit was given to the whole Church and to individuals as members of the Church.

B. Its Manner. It was striking and impressive. The gift came from above, and it came as wind, mysterious, invisible, mighty, as described by our Lord in John 3:8, and as the very breath of life. The gift came as fire which should warm the cold and chilly heart, lighten men’s darkness, soften men’s hardness, burn away men’s dross, and kindle the dead matter of the world into heavenly flame. The Advocate came one Fire for all, for there is one Spirit and one body. But He came as fire distributing itself so that it rested on each of them, for, though given to the whole body, He is given to every member of the same for his vocation and ministry, apportioning to each one individually as He wills (1 Cor. 12:11). There is one Fire but many tongues, many tongues but one Fire. He came as tongues, to persuade, not to force; as tongues of fire, for He persuades not by human eloquence but by divine inspiration.

C. Its Result. The first result of the Spirit’s coming was the miraculous gift of tongues, a striking symbol of the Church’s nature. As the languages of men are the result and perpetuation of division, so the one message made plain to all was the proclamation that divisions should pass away and that in the Church Catholic there should be neither Jew nor Greek. The Gospel addresses man as man, and tells of a universal need, a universal grace, and of the perpetual expansion and adaptation of the one body for all races, times, and needs.

OUTLINE FOR SERMON ON THE HOLY GOSPEL

Our Lord contrasts the life of the Church with that of the world in three particulars.

The Life of the Church

A. Loving What the World Does Not Love. “Jesus answered him.” The question was asked by Judas, not Iscariot. A suggestive parenthesis, for such as he put no such question. The Judas of selfishness is contrasted with the Ju-das of love, who desires no blessing he cannot share with others. The answer is sad. Christ cannot make the world see. Until men have learned to love and obey, such heavenly indwelling cannot be theirs.

B. Knowing What the World Cannot Know. The Church knows because she has a Teacher whom the world has not, who implants knowledge and the desire to know. Truth coming from many quarters is received and applied by the Spirit. He shines upon it and makes it visible. He clothes it in beauty and attractiveness. He gives it power and persuasion. What the Savior teaches by His Word and example from without, the Spirit teaches within. Christ is the Lesson, and the Spirit the Teacher of that Lesson.

C. Possessing Peace Which the World Cannot Give. The peace of the world is in forgetfulness, but the peace of Christ is in remembrance. The world’s peace is a sleep liable to sudden rude awakening. The peace given by Christ is not taken away, for it can see the meaning of sorrow, even as Christ’s disciples were then learning that Christ’s departure was good both for Him and for them. This peace conquers all the circumstances and evil of the world. The reason we have so little is that Satan enters the doors we have left open for the world. Christ so shut the door upon the world that Satan could not find entrance.

THE HOLY COMMUNION

“We will come to him and make Our home with him.” St. Paul writes (1 Cor. 3:16): “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” Also (1 Cor. 6:19): “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you?” In the Holy Communion the power of the Holy Spirit makes it possible for us to receive the very Body and Blood of the Son of God together with the Bread and Wine. We have Communion, fellowship with Christ. But St. Paul goes still farther: “By one Spirit we were all baptized into one body” (1 Cor. 12:13). Also: “We, though many, are one body in Christ” (Rom. 12:5). Again: “You are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Cor. 12:27). This union of all believers also finds expression in the Holy Sacrament. We are one with one another. The Holy Communion is to help us to love down and love out of existence all the barriers that separate Christ’s people. As we kneel together, eating of one loaf and drinking of one cup, we are to be reminded that we are members of the same body and this is Christ’s body. We are brethren, not foes, competitors, strangers, chance acquaintances, companions. We are more than ordinary comrades. All are brethren.

This is what Christ wants His people to be to one another. It is asking much. The union of Communion is not an ordinary union. It is not a common tie nor a cheap fellowship. It is high as God, holy as Calvary, enduring as eternity. But we do not regard a union with Christ too high. We do not think it is too high when it comes to claiming Christ’s merit and standing before God. We feel that our union with Christ is possible because His love for us is so great. If we loved one another as He loved us, it would not be too wild a dream to hope that we might realize on earth the union of brethren. If we are His true followers, He commands us to love one another after that fashion in which He loved us. As we this day kneel together in Holy Communion with Him who loved us to the death on the cross, and as the old story fills our hearts with its blessed peace, may we ask the Holy Spirit that He help us to comprehend with ail saints what is the length and breadth and height and depth and to know the love of God that passes knowledge, that we may love one another as Christ has loved us.

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