This morning, four Wembley Downs congregations representing four different traditions gathered together at St Paul’s Anglican Church for a combined Pentecost Eucharist. Everyone wore red, the liturgical colour representing the tongues of flame that symbolise the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon the120 gathered in Jerusalem soon after the departure of the resurrected Jesus. The Feast of Pentecost marks the birth of the Church and serves today as a rallying point for the unity of the Church across its diverse traditions. Leaders of all four congregations played roles in celebrating the traditional Anglican Eucharist under the direction of the resident rector. This was not a new event – it was the sixth occasion for the Anglican Churches of Christ and Uniting Church congregations and first time for the local Baptist church. Overflow facilities were needed to cater for the packed church.
A quick sneak pic of part of the Pentecost crowd at our combined Wembley Downs churches Eucharist comes out all blurred and wrong, but strangely evocative of the great occasion where the Holy Spirit descended upon the crowd in Jerusalem forever altering perspectives and shifting paradigms of people everywhere in perception of the Creator’s interaction with us. The Anglican, Uniting Church and Churches of Christ congregations habitually come together on the day of Pentecost for this celebration. Today, the Revd Tara Curlewis, visiting Perth in her capacity as General Secretary of the National Council of Churches, preached the Pentecost message.
It’s a tradition in these parts now. Every Pentecost over the last four years we have joined with the Uniting Church at St Paul’s Anglican Church to celebrate Pentecost with an Anglican Eucharist. Everyone wears red and the sharing of communion is a highlight. Here’s the reflection I shared on John 15:27-16:4
As well as the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity that culminates today, we are in the middle of the Week of Prayer for Reconciliation that focuses on Aboriginal Australia. Some of us are involved in the process of planning a series of meetings involving indigenous liaison that includes a weekend retreat and some time away on a Kimberley field trip. We are calling it “Listening Journeys.” For those of us that are action focused, the planning and negotiating is a slow and frustrating process. Listening’s not our favourite game, we want to get in there and fix things. For those of us that are more reflective, it seems more appropriate to apply the brakes rather than the accelerator. We want to ask, why are we doing this? What is the best outcome for all? Should we even go if we are not invited?
Today’s celebration is helpful as we process and receive again the wisdom of the Word.
John’s Pentecost is not focused on a single invasive event as recorded by the writer of Acts. The coming of the Spirit is all pervasive, both at the same time anticipated and realised amongst those who fellowshipped with the pre-crucifixion Jesus and joined others in enjoyment of the companionship of the post resurrection Christ.
John’s writing draws on the memory of Jesus enfleshed – walking, talking, back-slapping, foot-washing, comforting and confronting – living, sleeping, eating and finally dying. But the Easter story tells us Jesus was raised so John’s gospel entices his community and ours to awareness of the same along-sidedness – the Holy Spirit, invoking the presence of the risen and ruling Christ, to encourage, protect, invoke, confront, rebuke and enfold all who are committed to his way.
The emphasis in Acts is, as the name suggests, on action. The events generated by the day of Pentecost set off a flurry of activity. The ministry and proclamation of an emboldened band of apostles draw crowds who are overwhelmed, converted and baptised – there are journeys and expeditions, persecutions, jailings, trials, confrontations – but all along the way churches are planted and universalised to include both Jew and Gentile. By the end of Acts, the presence of those who follow the Way has taken firm root throughout the Mediterranean.
The emphasis in John’s gospel, on the other hand, is on relationship – the intimacy of the presence of the Spirit. No spectacular crowd drawing visitation of wind and flames here. The risen Jesus quietly breathes upon his disciples in the privacy of a locked room, saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
From John’s gospel we draw the assurance of God’s intimate involvement in every fibre of our living – yes, enhancing our unique and individual human contribution to the world by drawing us together into that expression of human community we call the Church.
No longer need we objectify God as someone who is out there that I must seek out, puzzle out, and somehow pacify through good works. It is about relationship. Not God and me, but as intimated by the medieval contemplatives, John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila, God in me and I in God.
This is the closeness of advocacy that John’s gospel speaks of when Jesus promises the coming of the Holy Spirit as a Comforter, an Advocate, a “come alongsider.”
Acts and John need each other. Action that is not guided and discerned by intimacy with the Spirit is simply spinning wheels in the mud and digging a rut. Internalising our whole attention within to the exclusion of acts of service and mission leads to irrelevant quietism that changes nothing and eventually shrinks to nothing.
The journey inwards is incomplete unless the journey outwards is engaged, and vice versa. Action needs reflection; reflection must lead to further action.