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St Matthews Church Oxhey Hertfordshire

Fr. David's sermon

15th May 2005

Fr David Shepherd


Ours is an age of instant news. 24 hours news channels, repeat the latest stories over & over again. The pictures are immediate but the accompanying commentary is often banal and lacking in depth. If we want more considered reflection on and interpretation of the events behind the headlines then we have to turn to the radio and the quality press.

It's a bit like that with today's Pentecost readings. Luke in Acts captures all the excitement of the Pentecost moment with the sound like a rushing wind, with the tongues of fire and with apparently drunk disciples rushing out speaking in tongues to the bemusement and astonishment of the Jerusalem crowds. It is true that Luke refers to the prophecy of Joel to give some explanation as to what was taking place but the whole at this point he is thin on interpretation. It reads like an instant news story without much reflection.

Of course the rest of Acts with its story of the expansion of the young missionary church helps to understand what it all means. For now there is only bewilderment, amazement & astonishment.

St. John as always takes a different approach. He has deep reflection with fewer headlines grabbing excitement. He places the coming of the Holy Spirit in the different context of the appearance of the Risen Lord to the disciples on the eve of the first Easter Day. As we read his account we discover the significance of the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church. We can pick out six points.

  1. The doors locked for fear. After the crucifixion the disciples we terribly afraid and for good reason. Jesus had been executed as a common criminal. As his followers they were at great risk of suffering a similar fate, judicial or otherwise. Their fear ran deeper. They did not only fear for their lives. Theirs' was a fear rooted in horror and in the loss of all that they held most dear. They were mentally and spiritually destroyed by it, like dead men.
  2. Jesus stood among them and said 'Peace be with you'. Into the midst of all that fear came the Risen Jesus, behind the locked doors. Frightened people like to hide behind locked doors to keep out the evil and the bad. The trouble is that the good, friends, loved ones are excluded too. Jesus is not so easily excluded. He comes with words of deep peace. His peace can be known in the midst of conflict and it also restores deeply damaged relationships.
  3. He showed them his hands and his side. The risen Christ still bears the marks of the cross. His suffering is not forgotten. It remains all too real. It is however transformed, overcome, defeated.
  4. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Fear gives way to joy at the presence of Christ. His wounds authenticate and enable recognition.
  5. As the Father has sent me, so I send you. The disciples loose their fear and are filled with joy. However Christian people are not meant to stay locked away in joyful holy huddles. Jesus repeats his words of peace but this time adds words of commission, 'as the Father has sent me so I send you'. It is impossible not to share deep joy, it always bursts out.
  6. The doors locked for fear.He breathed on them and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit.' Jesus gives the disciples the power for their mission. They cannot do it their own strength. The task of forgiveness and absolution is the work of the Holy Spirit. For St. John this is the 'Pentecost moment'. What is given is Jesus' spirit that enables his disciples to carry on his work in the world.

Today, the day of Pentecost, we rejoice in the gift of God's Holy Spirit. We can ask not to lose the sense of the excitement of the first day of Pentecost as recorded by Luke. We can also seek with St John that greater understanding of what the gift means to us. As we become more aware of the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives so we find our fear melts away to be replaced by deep inner joy and peace. In a wounded and suffering world we can recognise the authenticating wounds of Christ. We then find ourselves sent out, commissioned as ministers of reconciliation and absolution, empowered by the Holy Spirit.

O Holy Ghost
giver of light and life;
Impart to us thoughts higher than our own thoughts,
and prayers better than our own prayers,
and powers beyond our own powers;
that we may spend and be spent
in the ways of love and goodness,
after the perfect image
of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.


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