Come, Holy Spirit

Pentecost is the time when, a few days after Jesus ascended in to Heaven, we remember the coming of the Holy Spirit to the apostles. But what of us, moving through all the post-Easter weeks & finding ourselves at Pentecost once again? What place does the Holy Spirit have in our own lives?

The Holy Spirit is often referred to as the third person of the Trinity. Indeed, we often speak of God the Father, God the Son (Jesus) and God the Holy Spirit. Many churches will say a creed or a statement of faith using words such as ‘We believe in the Holy Spirit’ and services often end with a blessing in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

In a communion service, the spirit is invited to come down upon the people and the bread and the wine but in many churches there is often very little teaching or discussion about the Holy Spirit. Whereas in others, such as in the Pentecostal movement, Protestant and Roman Catholic charismatic churches, and some evangelical churches, the Holy Spirit takes centre stage and is manifested in many different and often dramatic ways.

Recorded by the Gospel-writer, Luke in Acts Chapter 2, coming 10 days after the Ascension and 50 after Easter (Pentecost is the Greek for ‘fiftieth’), this appearance of the Holy Spirit as promised by Jesus must have been a dramatic event.

This same Holy Spirit comes upon us today, enabling us to be a community of believers, a community of faith, which joins us in belonging to each other and belonging to God – even in these times where are unable to gather together in the building we call church, we remain the church of God.

So what is the purpose of the Holy Spirit in our lives?

  • The Spirit is sometimes called a comforter: we often experience comfort through a person (or perhaps an item or a place) that reassures us or makes us comfortable. The spirit is also with us to give comfort through such people or directly through prayer and presence.
  • The Spirit is an advocate: someone to stand alongside us; someone who might speak for us, or speak up for us – that’s what the Holy Spirit does; the word also suggests a lawyer who defends us. The Spirit is sometimes considered as a liberator – offering us freedom.
  • The Spirit is also thought of a guide: guiding us to pray for someone or contact someone. These might be thought of as ‘holy nudges’ – those little prompts that show us how God is at work through the Holy Spirit.

There is a lot more to the Holy Spirit than that too – so maybe take a look at this film offering a further reflection.

In his book, Behold the Beauty of the Lord, Henri Nouwen writes:

‘Let us go back in time. In the story of the Exodus, God is revealed as God for us, father-like – guiding the people out of slavery with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Later, in the story of Jesus, we have Immanuel – God with us – the Son of God accompanying the people in solidarity and compassion. Now in the story of Pentecost, God is revealed as God within us – we are enabled to breathe the divine life ourselves. Thus, Pentecost completes the mystery of God’s revelation as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. By becoming not only a God for us and a God with us, but also God within us, God offers the full knowledge of the divine life.’

God is for us. God is with us. God is within us.

God is for you. God is with you. God is within you.

Come, Holy Spirit

 

 

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On Earth as it is in Heaven

In comparison to Christmas and Holy Week and Easter, Ascension Day (21 May) often just passes us by.

Even if we were able to meet in our churches, because it’s a Thursday, the congregation may be very small and rather like some of the other events in the church year, such as Ash Wednesday or some saints’ days, we may not fully understand what it is we are actually marking.

We are of course keen to commemorate the first day of Jesus’ life on earth at Christmas and yet we can totally overlook this, the last day of his earthly ministry.

Simply put, 40 days have passed between Easter Day, the day of resurrection, and the day of ascension, when Jesus went up from a mountain on the outskirts of Bethany, watched by his followers, in to heaven to be with God (see Acts 1:6-11). The Bible tells us about many unusual, perhaps unbelievable events which took place and the Ascension is one of them. To our 21st century rational minds, to speak of someone going up in a cloud is beyond our comprehension. It simply couldn’t happen. It’s impossible.

Well, do take a look at this short film to explore the importance and meaning of the Ascension in more detail but in essence, the Ascension of Jesus represents a significant truth… the physical presence of Christ departs from earth to be replaced by the spiritual presence in the form of the Holy Spirit whose coming we will celebrate in a few days’ time at Pentecost.

The Ascension and other similar events stretch our minds and our imaginations because we live in an earthly sense and not yet in a heavenly one. As Paul put it in 1 Corinthians 13:12, ‘Now, we see through a glass, darkly.’ We do not yet see face to face.

We do not yet see the heavenly aspects – we get glimpses of heaven but we are human beings and not yet divine beings.

As Ronald Cole-Turner put it: ‘Just as the incarnation – God becoming human in the form of Jesus – reveals to us the outreach of the love of God, so the ascension reveals to us the transfiguration and the gathering up that is to come at the end. What happens to Jesus Christ – death, resurrection, and being raised in exultation to glory – will happen to us all. The Ascension… is a reminder that our lives are caught up in something far more grand than we can imagine.’

So if we see the Ascension of Jesus as an assurance for the present here on earth and a promise of what is to come in heaven, in other words, on Earth as it is in Heaven

  • What does the Ascension mean for you in your life here on earth?
  • And what glimpses of heaven do you see?

 

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Holy Week & Easter

While it will feel strange not being able to mark the most important week in the Christian Year in our churches, we can also know that God can bless us in new ways at this time.

Using art, words, music and silence, these two films reflects on some of the events of Holy Week and Easter.

The films are divided in to parts so can be watched one day at a time if you wish. Click on the links to watch:

Palm Sunday to Thursday

Good Friday to Easter Day

A full list of the films in the Out of the Wilderness series can be found here.

Wednesday in Holy Week is traditionally called a Silent Day because the Bible doesn’t indicate what happened on that day. So why not have your own personal Quiet Day using these 3 films?

Out of the Wilderness: Renewed

This video is one of a series of short films for Lent, Holy Week and Easter. Focussing on words from Isaiah 40, we come Out of the Wilderness renewed and enabled to see life from God’s perspective and given strength in times of weakness.

Click here to watch.

A full list of the films in this series can be found here.

Out of the Wilderness: Restored

This video is one of a series of short films called Out of the Wilderness, designed for Lent, Holy Week and Easter. Focussing on Psalm 40, in this film we consider how God restores us and gives us a new song to sing. Recorded before the current difficult times, it’s a Psalm which seems to have taken on a new relevance.

Click here to watch.

A full list of the films in this series can be found here.

Out of the Wilderness: Waiting

This video is one of a series of short films called Out of the Wilderness, designed for Lent, Holy Week and Easter. It considers how waiting for God’s guidance (and some aspects of life generally) can be difficult.

Click here to watch.

A full list of the films in this series can be found here. If you are finding them helpful please do let someone else know about them. Thank you.

Out of the Wilderness: Wandering

This video is one of a series of short films called Out of the Wilderness, designed for Lent, Holy Week and Easter. It considers how when in spiritually dry times, times when we feel we are in the wilderness, we may find ourselves wandering: unsure of where we are heading.

Click here to watch.

A full list of the films in this series can be found here.

Out of the Wilderness: Wanting

This video, part of a series of short films for Lent, Holy Week and Easter considers what we might be wanting when travelling Out of the Wilderness.

What do we want from God? What does God want, not from, but for us?

Click here to watch.

A full list of the films in the series can be found here.

Out of the Wilderness

23 degrees in February. Winter sun in Seville. And visiting one of the city’s 115 churches.

The confessional.

The priest inhabits a solitary compartment. To one side, kneels a man confessing his sin through a latticed screen. No door to hide behind though. His act of penitence witnessed by all around. Unseen by the priest, his confession is heard. His sins no longer hidden. He has come out of the wilderness. The wilderness of unforgiven wrongs.

Commencing today, Ash Wednesday, and as mentioned before, Lent is traditionally a time of focussing on what we’ve got wrong. A time of penitence.

That said, such repentance – the word means to ‘turn around’: to turn from wrong to right – is perhaps a daily occurrence for many of us and one not just limited to 40 days or so in the Spring. Many people live with the mistakes and regrets of the past and their impact on the present and the future. Many people live in a wilderness. Whether spiritually, physically or emotionally, such wilderness times can feel dry and barren.

When we live in the wilderness we can feel that we are wanting, wandering and waiting.

We might think about what we want from God and what is it that God wants, not from, but for us.

Sometimes we can feel a lost in the wilderness. We wander around and don’t know where God is. Times when we want to know God’s presence and how we can trust him in the uncertainties of life.

And in many aspects of the wanting and the wandering, there are times of waiting. Waiting for a way forward or a decision, or waiting for a deeper understanding of what God wants for us.

But, and perhaps paradoxically, it is often in such wilderness times that we experience God in much deeper ways. A God who brings us out of the wilderness. Who restores us and renews us, giving us strength and the ability to see life from God’s perspective.

This is the last full blog post until after Easter (yes, I’m giving up writing for Lent…!) but I’d like to offer you a companion for your own journey out of the wilderness.

This travelling companion comprises a series of short films. An introductory one you may like to watch today and then one for each of the weeks of Lent. There are a couple more for Holy Week and Easter as well.* There’s also a free Companion Booklet you can use to make a note of any reflections or insights you have during this period.

When I was a child I used to love doing a rather strange thing. I would stand on my bed in the very corner of my room, getting up as high as I could and look down over all my toys and books. I’m tempted to say you should try it sometime… but maybe do a risk assessment first! It’s a bit like being in an aeroplane looking down on the countryside.

So often we struggle to see this bigger picture when we are so caught up with the wanting, wandering and waiting. God understands the day-to-day practicalities of our lives more than we will ever be able to fathom. Seeking to see our lives from God’s point of view gives us a whole new perspective. Perhaps that is what God wants for you this Lent.

 

 

*There will be a short post on each Sunday in Lent with a link to the film. If you’d like a personal reminder about each film for each week then simply enter your e-mail address in the ‘Subscribe’ box on this page and you’ll receive a notification. It’s free and secure and your details won’t be shared with anyone else.

What’s in a Name

In the team I used to work with, a sign that people were struggling was an increase in swearing. That’s fine: it acted as a release mechanism – rewarding as the work was, it could also be difficult. I recall one occasion when a lovely colleague of mine walked in to the main office and said very loudly ‘Jesus Christ!’

It spoke of their frustration at a situation: they meant no offence and probably didn’t realise it could have caused any. And while not offended, I was a tad surprised, it has to be said.

Quite rightly, we call ‘foul’ on chants of racial abuse at football matches and it’s important to challenge anti-Semitism and expressions of Islamophobia, for example. But it is strange that Christianity continues to be seen as somewhat of an easy, unprotected target.

From the day to day occurrences, such as the incident mentioned above, to that heard on TV or expressed in other ways (‘Alcohol – put the “good” in to Good Friday’, as one greetings card put it) it is seemingly ‘acceptable’ to do so. Even the ubiquitous ‘Oh, my God!’ is voiced by both unbeliever and believer alike.

So, as we now stand in Holy Week and prepare ourselves for Good Friday, is the continued use of such language in this way somehow symbolic of society’s and individual attitudes?

Symbolic of continuing to metaphorically bang the nails in to the crucified Christ perhaps…

As Christians, we believe that Jesus, God’s son, died on the Cross in order that everyone could enter in to a personal relationship with God. To receive God’s love and to gain eternal life with God in Heaven. Hence, why it’s called Good Friday.

And if that wasn’t enough, on the third day – Easter Day – we learn that that same Jesus has been brought back to life. The Resurrection. Yes, intellectually, that bit is more of a struggle. Nearly 40 years ago, it was that bit which held me back from believing in any of it. How on earth can someone come back to life? Impossible.

It does takes a leap of faith. If one can believe that with God nothing is impossible then, therefore, why couldn’t God’s Son be brought back to life?

I started this post by using Jesus’ name in a particular way and it is this same Jesus who says our name too.

John’s Gospel tells us that early on that first Easter morning, one of Jesus’ female disciples, Mary Magdalene, went to the tomb where Christ’s body lay. It was still dark. The stone had been rolled away from the entrance and the tomb was empty. The body had gone.

No doubt, as she sat weeping, Mary recalled Jesus’ teaching about his death and resurrection. And yet the body had gone. Imagine the confusion. She spent 3 years following this guy and believing what he said and now… nothing. Even the appearance of angels did not bring consolation. Then along comes a gardener and she poured out her distress to him. What on earth was going on?

And then one word changed everything. A word charged with emotion. A word which  encapsulated all she was, covered all her confusion and distress, and brought together all her faith and hope.

‘Mary.’

The 16th Century Italian artist, Savoldo captures the moment beautifully in his painting, Mary Magdalene – it’s the one on the front cover of A Story to Tell. In this one word, the simple utterance of her name, Mary has found not a gardener but the risen Christ. And Christ has found her. In the deep heartfelt calling of her name, Mary had found the true fulfilment of who God had made her to be. She turns to face him. And, John’s Gospel tells us, she says his name in reply.

When someone calls our name, it attracts our attention. We turn to face them. We respond to the voice. We see the person who says it. Hearing our name spoken makes us turn in the right direction. And if we are looking for someone we’ve lost, we might call out their name. And such is the joy when we find them – and such is the joy of the person who has been found.

Through the resurrection, Jesus calls each one of us by name.

Believe it or not, he’s saying your name right now.