A reflection for the Day of Pentecost (Whit Sunday)

Reading: John 20: 19-23

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.

Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’

Reflection for Pentecost

During the current pandemic, we have become increasingly aware of breath – our own and other people’s. We have been warned about the need for social distancing to avoid any possibility of airborne transmission of coronavirus. People using public transport and many workers are now wearing face-masks. I still have not got used to the sight of people wearing face-masks in shops or on the street. Instead of reassuring me that the wearer is trying to prevent spreading infection, it makes me think of the risk of being in contact with other people. I suppose we will get used to it in time as part of the ‘new normal.’

Breath is the source of our life, from that first breath at the moment of birth to when we breathe our last. Before the current restrictions, I took up adult swimming lessons. Not being very fit, I would find myself gasping for air when I lifted my face out of the water. When we feel deprived of air, it is our natural instinct to breathe deeply.

In Genesis, we read that when God formed man from dust, “he breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (Gen. 2:7). In today’s gospel reading from John 20, we read that the risen Jesus breathed on his disciples and said “receive the Holy Spirit”. This is a comforting and reassuring image. The Holy Spirit is the source of our life as Christians, enabling us to live as followers of Jesus. Our Lord had just commissioned the apostles to go out into the world and continue his mission: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you”. They were sent to be Christ to the world. This small group of frightened individuals, who had been hiding behind locked doors, were being sent to fulfil a mission which they felt inadequate to fulfil. Aware of this, Jesus had prepared them for the coming of “another advocate” – the Holy Spirit.

Today, on the Day of Pentecost, we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit to equip the followers of Christ for the mission to which he called them. In Acts chapter two, we read of the Spirit coming upon the apostles with a sound “like the rush of a violent wind” (Acts 2: 2). This wind from God was to energise, transform and empower them to proclaim the gospel of Christ to the world.

As Christians, we are still dependent on the Holy Spirit to breathe God’s life into his church. Perhaps, after several weeks of social distancing, isolation and not being able to meet to worship as a community, you are feeling a little weary and worn down – I know that I am at times. At the beginning of our Communion service, we pray for the inspiration (literally in-breathing) of the Holy Spirit to cleanse the thoughts of our hearts so that we can worship God. One of my favourite hymns for Pentecost is ‘Breathe on me, breath of God’, which is published below. Can I suggest that we each use those words as a prayer to God to renew, refresh and strengthen us? May God, breath his life-giving Spirit into each of our lives.

Hymn 293

Breathe on me, breath of God,
Fill me with life anew;
That I may love what Thou dost love
And do what Thou wouldst do.

Breathe on me, Breath of God,
Until my heart is pure;
Until with thee I will one will
To do and to endure.

Breathe on me, Breath of God,
Till I am wholly Thine;
Until this earthly part of me
Glows with Thy fire divine.

Breathe on me, Breath of God,
So shall I never die,
But live with Thee the perfect life
Of Thine eternity.

Edwin Hatch (1835-1889)

Collect for the Day of Pentecost

Almighty God,
who on the day of Pentecost
sent your Holy Spirit to the apostles
with the wind from heaven and in tongues of flame,
filling them with joy and boldness to preach the gospel:
By the power of the same Spirit
strengthen us to witness to your truth
and to draw everyone to the fire of your love;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Prayers of intercession

We pray for God to breathe his Spirit into our lives and the life of the church.

Generous God,
We thank you for the power of your Holy Spirit.
We ask that we may be strengthened to serve you better.
We pray for your church, for this diocese and Pat, our bishop.

Lord, come to bless us
and fill us with your Spirit.

We thank you for the wisdom of your Holy Spirit.
We ask you to make us wise to understand your will.
Guide our leaders to make wise decisions for the welfare of all people.

Lord, come to bless us
and fill us with your Spirit.

We thank you for the peace of your Holy Spirit.
We ask you to keep us confident of your love wherever you call us.
Bring your peace to all places where there is conflict.

Lord, come to bless us
and fill us with your Spirit.

We thank you for the healing of your Holy Spirit.
We ask you to bring reconciliation and wholeness
where there is division, sickness and sorrow.
We pray for all who are affected by the COVID-19 virus
and those who care for them.

Lord, come to bless us
and fill us with your Spirit.

We thank you for the gifts of your Holy Spirit.
We ask you to equip us for the work which you have given us.
We pray for our young people, our schools and all teachers.

Lord, come to bless us
and fill us with your Spirit.

We thank you for the fruit of your Holy Spirit.
We ask you to reveal in our lives the love of Jesus.
Bless our homes and our families.

Lord, come to bless us
and fill us with your Spirit.

We thank you for the breath of your Holy Spirit,
given us by the risen Lord.
We remember all who have departed this life,
who rest in your nearer presence.
We ask you to keep the whole Church, living and departed,
in the joy of eternal life.

Lord, come to bless us
and fill us with your Spirit.

Generous God,
you sent your Holy Spirit upon your Messiah at the river Jordan,
and upon the disciples in the upper room:
in your mercy fill us with your Spirit,
hear our prayer,
and make us one in heart and mind
to serve you with joy for ever. Amen.

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