A Meditation upon the Collect, Epistle & Gospel
The word “Pentecost” reminds us of the Church’s Jewish, Old Testament heritage. Pentecost is a festival, 50 days after Passover, that commemorates both the ingathering of harvest (Leviticus 23:15ff., Numbers 28:26) and the giving of the Law at Mt Sinai (Exodus 19 & 20).
The word “WhitSunday” reminds us of the Church’s missionary expansion into the Gentile world to preach the Gospel, to make converts and to baptize them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. This Sunday is a day that was set apart in northern Europe for Baptisms, with the candidates dressed in white robes. Thus Whit(e)Sunday.
The EPISTLE (Acts 2:1-11) is the account of what happened on the Day of Pentecost immediately following the Resurrection & Ascension of the Lord Jesus. On this Day the Holy Ghost, sent by the Father and the Son, came down upon the assembled disciples and apostles with all kinds of remarkable signs and consequences. From the GOSPEL (John 14:15-31) we learn that Jesus, the Son of the Father, had promised this Gift to his disciples. It would come after he had ascended to the Father in glory. In the COLLECT, the contemporary Church prays that She will be filled, guided and comforted by the same Spirit who still comes to her from the Father and the Son.
EPISTLE: The descent of the Spirit of Lord, coming in the name of the Lord Jesus and bearing his gifts, virtues and graces, was a unique moment in the history of the world and of its salvation. His arrival and presence is attested by outward and visible signs --- a rushing wind (cf. Ezekiel 37:9-14), tongues as of fire (cf. Exodus 3:2ff., Matthew 3:11), speaking in the languages known by the many pilgrims in Jerusalem for the Feast, boldness in the apostles and disciples to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and a vivid sense of new life, a new epoch and a new era. The Church is born and becomes active, energized by the energy of God. The proclamation of the mighty works of God in many languages on this day points to the future universal character of the Church of Jesus Christ. The harvest festival points to the fruit of the Spirit dwelling in the souls of men (see Galatians 5:22).
GOSPEL: Only after the arrival of the Paraclete (the Spirit, who is the Counsellor, Advocate and Comforter) did the disciples appreciate much of the profound teaching of Jesus given to them in the Upper Room and contained in John 14-17. Today, as we read 15:15-31, note what is there said by Jesus of the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of Truth and Unity, and understand it in the light of Acts 2, we find that our appreciation also of what Jesus said grows by leaps and bounds.
COLLECT: Even as the human body without its soul/mind/spirit is lifeless and useless, so the Church of God without the indwelling Spirit of the Lord is also lifeless and useless. Today, as much as did the first apostles and disciples, we need the gift, presence, power and comfort of the Holy Ghost, sent to us in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, to be truly the Body of Christ in the world.
For excellent further meditatory material for this high festival day, take a look at Charles Wesley’s hymn, “O Thou who camest from above…” to reflect upon “tongues of fire” and also at John Keble’s, “When God of old came down from heaven…” to compare the giving of the Law and the giving of the Holy Ghost.
“Be filled with the Holy Ghost and with fire!”
The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon
Minister of Christ Church, Biddulph Moor,
England & Vice-President and Emissary-at-Large
of The Prayer Book Society of America