There is a period of human history called the Dark Ages. It started in about the fifth century and continued for the next 600 years. You might say 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. 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.
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. During worship on Pentecost 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 noises 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 us.
When life in the church is drab, when our need to reach out to others with the comfort of God's Word 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 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 confused child.
He is our tour guide 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 is 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.
Jesus ascended to heaven. While he was here on earth he was bound by time and space. When he re-entered heaven he sent the Holy Spirit to be the helper for those he left behind to carry on his work.
The 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 celebrating the fact that the coming of the Holy Spirit is a daily event in the life of the Christian and of the church.
The Holy Spirit speaks to us the truth about God and shows us the love of the Father and the Son. He guarantees that the promises of God in the Bible are true.
The Holy Spirit testifies who we are. We are God's children, we are spirit-filled people. For each of us our Pentecost occurred when we were baptised and confirmed. At our baptism we received 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. He comforts us when we are sad. He lifts us up when we are down.
The Spirit gives us the power to live as children of God. We are given faith. And that faith relies on God; trusts God to help us in our deepest needs. That Spirit-given-faith moves us to be God's holy and chosen people in everything we say and do.
There are times, however, when we forget who we are. We let sin, and not the 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 very 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 is their saviour and that he gave his life to save them.
It is said that a certain guide lived in the deserts of Arabia who never lost his way. He carried with him a homing pigeon with a very fine cord attached to one of its legs. When in doubt as to which path to take, he threw the bird into the air. The pigeon quickly strained at the cord to fly in the direction of home, and led the guide to his home, just as the Holy Spirit is our constant companion when we are faced with difficult decisions.
The Spirit binds us together into the church. There can be little doubt that all of us here this morning are all individuals; no one is alike. We have our unique talents and gifts. We come from different backgrounds Nevertheless, the church has survived over so many centuries in spite of the diversity of its members. That’s what makes the church so special. The 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 always 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.