O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, Who art everywhere and fillest all things; Treasury of Blessings, and Giver of Life – come and abide in us, and cleanse us from every impurity, and save our souls, O Good One. – Eastern Orthodox Prayer for The Holy Spirit
This past Sunday was the Feast of Pentecost for many Christians around the world. It’s the day we celebrate the Holy Spirit’s descent. At my church there were assigned prayers and readings that reflect upon the meaning of Pentecost. Usually, (outside of a global pandemic) everyone wears clothes of red, the liturgical color that symbolizes the Holy Spirit, as in red tongues of fire. It’s also one of the five feast days when, ordinarily, the sacrament of Baptism is celebrated. This fact invites us to reflect on the role of the Holy Spirit in salvation.
Looking over the prayers and readings for Sunday, one Pentecost theme stands out above all others: The Holy Spirit reunifies a divided humanity. This theme is clear in the fundamental story of Pentecost found in Acts 2. When the Holy Spirit comes, the division of humanity that occurred at the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11 is reversed. From chaotic division to gospel unity. That’s what the Holy Spirit does.
On Pentecost Sunday, our worship reflects this theme explicitly, over and over again. We begin our service with these words:
Celebrant: There is one Body and one Spirit;
People: There is one hope in God’s call to us;
Celebrant: One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism;
People: One God and Father of all.
– The Book of Common Prayer (BCP), 299.
Then the Priest prays the prayer of the day:
Almighty God, on this day you opened the way of eternal life to every race and nation by the promised gift of your Holy Spirit: Shed abroad this gift throughout the world by the preaching of the Gospel, that it may reach to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever, Amen. – BCP, 227.
Then we have the Acts 2 reading, followed later by the renewal of baptismal vows when we are asked:
Celebrant: Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
People: I will, with God’s help. – BCP, 417.
Friends, this is not only the providence of God on display, it is the counter-cultural nature of Christian worship at its best. This Sunday we were invited to reenact God’s story in such a way that we remember His vision for a redeemed humanity, one where “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).”
We are called to grieve how far from this vision our sinful divisions have taken us. And we will sing, pray, and long for the fulfillment of that vision once again.
In other words, in this Feast of Pentecost, Christians around the world can grieve a world in which George Floyd has died, yearn for a world where racism and all other human divisions are no more, and expect the comfort and assistance toward this end that only God, the Holy Spirit, can bring.
This is the world that awaits, where “the songs of peaceful Zion thunder like a mighty flood” because “Jesus out of ev’ry nation has redeemed us by His blood.” (William Dix, Alleluia Sing to Jesus).