This is the day that the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it! (i)
On the last Sunday of this month, we shall celebrate the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit - the spirit of Jesus himself - came upon the disciples or apostles, as they became to be known.
The history of Pentecost finds its roots within the Old Testament and was celebrated on the 50th day after the Passover. It was an agricultural festival when farmers brought the first sheaves of wheat as an offering to God. They would say a prayer of gratitude and express a hope that the rest of the crop would be safely gathered in. Like The Feast of the Passover, Pentecost looked back to the Exodus when God rescued his people from Egypt and gave them new guidance of the law through The Ten Commandments.
The Holy Spirit has always been active in the world but, in the time of the Old Testament, it seems that He came to specific people to enable them to carry out specially designated tasks. Through God, however, the prophet Joel had foretold that in the future era of the Messiah, the Spirit would become available to all believers, not just a select few.
In the Greek and Hebrew languages, the word for “spirit” is similar and is defined as “wind” or “breath”. Spirit is not static but it is a dynamic force that has to do something and has to go somewhere. We might say that it is like a power or an energy that reaches out and makes connections. The Holy Spirit displays these characteristics supremely. Most importantly, He is most definitely a person, not an “it”. He is the third and perhaps the most mysterious person of the Holy Trinity for He is the spirit of Jesus himself.
From the account in Acts Chapter 2, verses 1-21, we find that the coming of the Holy Spirit was both dynamic and dramatic, with a rushing mighty wind and tongues of fire surrounding and touching the disciples. The effect on them was dramatic too. They were re-created as the Spirit empowered them with special gifts and abilities; witnesses were almost incredulous at the tremendous change in them and the new power shown by them. The word of God, which had come through his servant Joel, had been fulfilled and the promise of the strength and guidance of the Holy Spirit is as true for us now as it was at the first New Testament Pentecost.
We have much to celebrate! As always, the hymns and songs that we sing at Pentecost will be a hugely important part of our worship: I think I can safely say that at Norbury, we enjoy a good sing! Most of us will have favourite hymns and tunes which are particularly meaningful to us. When the two art forms of words and music come together, they often touch us deeply and bring God’s truth to us in a powerful way.
Since that first New Testament Pentecost, many hymns and songs featuring the Holy Spirit have been written and, though the language may have changed over time, the meaning still rings clear. The ancient hymn Come Holy Ghost, our souls inspire, and lighten with celestial fire (ii) has been sung for many centuries and expresses a common longing for the Spirit to come and do His work within us.
The hymns and songs of the Holy Spirit reveal much about His nature as well as the many and various ways in which He comes to us and seeks to help us when we invite Him into our lives. Sometimes He still comes dramatically: Blaze Spirit blaze, set our hearts on fire! (iii). But more often, it seems that he steals upon us almost silently, gradually changing and shaping our lives, enabling us to grow more towards the likeness of Jesus. Breathe on me breath of God (iv) is one such hymn whilst a more modern song Spirit of God, unseen by the wind, gentle as is the dove (v) takes on a special poignancy when sung to the hauntingly lovely melody of “The Skye Boat Song”.
Sometimes the Spirit brings encouragement and comes alive to us through songs such as The Spirit lives to set us free, walk, walk in the light (vi). The same song reminds us that He also binds us all in unity and, as we sing, our own spirits lift so that the words can become a prayer within us. Often the actual name “Holy Spirit” is not directly mentioned but our longing for Him is amply apparent. We might think of Love divine, all loves excelling, joy of heaven to earth come down (vii).
I’m sure that we can think of many more songs of the Spirit as we look forward to our celebration. This year, the week immediately before Pentecost is our Prayer Week. It will be a wonderful opportunity to allow the words of our much-loved hymns and songs to become real prayers as we prepare once more to embrace the coming of the Holy Spirit.
Hymns referred to or quoted:
- (i) This is the day (Les Garrett)
- (ii) Come Holy Ghost (R Maurus, J Cosin)
- (iii) Shine, Jesus, shine (Graham Kendrick)
- (iv) Breathe on me breath of God (Edwin Hatch)
- (v) Spirit of God (M V Old)
- (vi) The Spirit lives to set us free (Damien Lundy)
- (vii) Love divine (Charles Wesley)