There is a period in history called the Dark Ages. It started in about the fifth century and continued for the next 600 years. It was a 600-year depression – food was scarce, people lived hand-to-mouth – and Western civilisation barely hung by a thread. The one bright spot was the local cathedral. Building cathedrals even in small towns gave work to thousands of people, and as we know took many, many years to complete. These buildings became the cultural, social and spiritual centres of life. Murals, stained glass windows, sculptures and pageantry helped teach the great stories of the Bible in a time when very few people could read or have access to pictures.
With this in mind some of the cathedrals were built especially to impress on the people the meaning of Pentecost. In the great domed and richly painted ceilings were a number of small carefully disguised doors. You can see these quite clearly in St. Paul’s cathedral. During worship on Pentecost Sunday when the whole town was gathered in the cathedral, some unlucky parishioners were drafted to climb up on to the roof. At the appropriate moment during the liturgy, they would release a live dove through the one of the small doors. This dove would swoop over the congregation as a living symbol of the presence of the Holy Spirit. At the same time the choir boys would make whooshing noise and the doors in the ceiling would be opened again and this time buckets of rose petals were showered on the congregation, symbolising tongues of flame falling on the worshippers below. You can imagine the impact that this made on the drab and hard lives of those medieval Christians. They may not have been able to read about Pentecost from the Bible but nevertheless this visual demonstration must have left a lasting impression.
There are no trap doors in our roof and be assured you won’t need to duck a low flying dove. But like those medieval Christians we need to be impressed again on how important the Holy Spirit is for each one of us.
When we feel the life in the church is drab; when our need to reach out to others with the comfort of God's Word and love is lacklustre; when telling others about Jesus loses its urgency or when our own lives face hardship; we need to be reminded that God has sent us his Spirit. We need to be reminded that God has provided us the help we need to be channels of his love and grace to the materialistic culture of our time.
The Holy Spirit has been described in many ways:-
He is like a breath that blows away the dust and makes everything clean.
He is like refreshing cool water to a parched throat.
He is like a cleansing bush fire that burns away all the thick undergrowth so that something new can rise out of the ashes.
He is like a potter who starts with an odd-shaped lump of clay and moulds and shapes it into something beautiful.
He is like a loving spouse giving love and support
or a parent guiding and helping a child.
He is our tour guide in life who points us in the right direction to see things that we would otherwise have missed.
He is that gentle tap on the shoulder that wakes us up and reminds us that there is more to life than relentlessly pushing ourselves until we are tired, stressed and depressed.
That what the Holy Spirit does – he revitalises, renews, refreshes, empowers, creates, he reminds, he guides, he comforts the church, and those we reach out to in his name.
You may have noted that I have used ‘he’ as a prefix but of course the Holy Spirit is neither male nor female, as God he has the attributes of both sexes.
When Jesus ascended into heaven he sent the Holy Spirit to be the helper, comforter and guide for those he left behind to carry on his work. The Holy Spirit of God would promote the good news about Jesus and give his followers the courage to do things that they would have otherwise never dared to do.
Pentecost was never intended to be a once only affair. Today we are celebrating coming of the Holy Spirit at the first Pentecost in much the same way those medieval Christians did in the cathedrals. But if that’s all we are doing then it is no different to any other celebration. Today we are also celebrating the fact that the coming of the Holy Spirit is a daily event in the life of the Christian and of the church or it should be.
The Holy Spirit speaks to us the truth about God and shows us the love of the Father and the Son.
The Holy Spirit tells us who we are - God's children, we are spirit-filled people. Our first Pentecost occurred when we were baptised and confirmed. At our baptism we receive the Spirit of God who promises that throughout our life’s journey, through the twists and turns that life takes us, he is always there. He reminds us that God never gives up on us.
The Holy Spirit gives us the power to live as children of God and Spirit-given-faith that helps us to be God's holy and chosen people in everything we say and do. We don’t however, get a lifetime supply – Paul instructed the early church to be being filled with the Spirit, it is a continuous process of praying asking and most important of all receiving.
There are times, however, when we forget who we are. We let sin, and not the Holy Spirit, affect the way we live our lives. Sometimes we fail to show love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control – those qualities that are evident when the Spirit controls our lives.
Or we may simply doze off and forget that Jesus gave his church some every important work to do while he is away – to share his love with those who need comfort and care, to reach out to those who need to hear that Jesus gave his life so that they might be forgiven.
The Holy Spirit binds us together into the church. There can be little doubt that each one of us here this morning are individuals; no two are alike. We have our unique talents and gifts. We come from different backgrounds, and that is what makes the church special. The Holy Spirit binds us together in order to care for one another, love one another, pray for one another, and encourage one another.
Without the Holy Spirit there would be no Christians and no Church. The gospel message would be unknown. The world would be in a mess. There would be no hope of eternal life.
The Holy Spirit is to the Church what air is to every human being. Air surrounds us so completely that we sometimes forget it is there. We breathe it continuously without realizing what we are doing. So it is with the Holy Spirit. He empowers our lives. He deepens our faith. He motivates our mission. And he demonstrates beyond the shadow of a doubt that God has a plan for all people – to know Jesus as Lord and Saviour.
At Pentecost, we celebrate the fact that God’s promised Holy Spirit descended to earth and is now here with each one of us this morning all we need to do is ask for him to fill us afresh with his presence. If we don’t and try to do anything for God in our own strength we will fail. So surely our prayer this morning has to be; Come Holy Spirit Come.