“Come Holy Spirit”
A sermon for the
Sunday after the Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ
Preached at Trinity Episcopal Church
In Easton, Pennsylvania
June 2, 2019
“Come, Holy Spirit, Creator blest,
and in our souls take up Thy rest;
come with Thy grace and heavenly aid
to fill the hearts which Thou hast made.”
We stand at a liminal moment-we stand at the threshold. We are caught between two realities and are in movement from one reality into another. We are challenged to let go of everything which we know, and which we think we know, and which we hope to know. We are called to surrender, to let go, and to trust. We do not really know what is coming, and yet, we are challenged to believe that even though it may not yet make any sense to us at all, what lies ahead has the possibility be even better than what we have known until now.
In any event, we do not have any choice. The decision has already been made for us. We can not do anything to change it. Events have transpired in a way that we did not want, did not expect, on which we did not plan, and over which we have no control. So, the only options left to us are either to fight against the inevitable or to somehow find a way to accept what is to come.
It really is like the experience of death. And we know all too well those confusing and conflicting emotions which come at the reality of death: hurt, anger, loss, disappointment, sadness, denial, pleading, bargaining and depression.
We are those followers of Jesus, hiding out in an upper room, fearing that, at any moment, someone is going to come knocking at the door, and haul us away to trial, to jail, to torture, and to death. We have run out of options, and possibilities. We are just exhausted. There is only one option-the option which Our Lord gave to us—the option of huddling together in our weakness and confusion—and praying.
The Sunday after the Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ is, it seems to me, one of the most fascinating moments in the Church Calendar-in the “Year of Grace.” It seems to have a startling—even shocking—resemblance to Easter Saturday.
To remind us, Easter Saturday has been described as the most “real” day of the year. It is the day in which everything is reduced to the most basic reality. The events of Holy Week have largely concluded. The church is empty. The altar is stripped. There are no flowers, no decorations, nothing to cover up an overwhelming sense of loss and grief. Everything is revealed as it truly is. Nothing remains hidden!
The Lord has died! We gather at the tomb. There is not yet any hope of Resurrection-something which has not even occurred to us yet. Everything is revealed—nothing is hidden. There are no cosmetic cover-ups. There has been only a moment to catch our breath after the overwhelming horror of the crucifixion and the shock of death. There is just an abyss of grief, of loss and sadness.
Today was a similar day for the friends of Jesus. Following the joy of the Resurrection, they spent 40 days with the Lord. In that time they began to heal and to recover. They re-visited familiar sites and places which had been at the center of their experience of Jesus.
Perhaps, in their own minds, they began to plan and to hope. Perhaps they were like tender buds which begin to bloom-even at time when there is a danger of killing frost. The Lord told them that he would be leaving them again—and this time for good. Did they really believe him? Did they understand the words he said to them about a Comforter, a Paraclete, and Advocate who would be coming?
I doubt it. And now, they were alone again. For nine days they hid, and shivered, and wailed in that room. And they prayed. Something was coming, but they did not know what. Someone was coming, but they did not know who it was. Something would happen to change everything, but they did not know that yet. They had not experienced it–it would take them by surprise! It would shake them to the very core of their being. It would transform them, and empower them. It would complete what had already begun. It would be an explosion! It would be Power! And like any encounter with power, it would shock them! It would shake them!
It would energize them! It would give them the courage to run out in the streets and proclaim to everyone, everywhere, the good news—and even in languages which they did not know, did not understand and had never even heard before. It would make them so fearless that they did not care who wanted to arrest them or interrogate them or mistreat them. It would set them on fire. It would be the Holy Spirit falling on them with wind and fire. But it would not happen yet. This was not yet Pentecost, these were those long, frightening, and confusing days following the Ascension.
At this time, there was something which gave them hope. They reflected on those mysterious and often-confusing words which Jesus had spoken to them before his departure. Words of comfort, and hope and love. Words which, even though, they did not fully understand them, seemed to make a kind of sense. And, having no other option, they chose to cling to those words, to try to trust in them, and to risk hoping that they might be true.
We hear again, those words today from the Holy Gospel According to Saint John—from a passage which is called the “High Priestly Prayer.” In these words, Jesus prays for his friends. We are able to eavesdrop on that prayer and to hear what Jesus wanted and asked for on behalf of his his closest friends—of his chosen family. We hear what we wanted them to have, what he knew they most needed—what he wanted them to become, and to be.
“Jesus prayed for his disciples, and then he said. “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
“Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
What an astonishing prayer! Connect these people. Make them one. Unite them to you, help them to reconnect to me. Help them know love! So love them, so empower them, so illumine them, so enlighten them that they will be able to embody love. Make them such powerful and credible witnesses that they world will believe their message. Help the world to realize that I have sent them. And, while you are at it, bless everyone who will hear the message they proclaim. Open their ears to hear the message, their minds to comprehend the message, and their hearts to welcome the message and to give it a home. Help those hearers to be so transformed by that same love that they will be united in you and in me. And then send them out as well. To love, to proclaim, and to share. In this way, draw everyone to me-and to you.
What fascinating words we hear: love, glory. And elsewhere we heard that most amazing word: power. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
My dear friends, the Easter Season comes to a close. In just a few days, the Church will be born at Pentecost. The Jesus movement will begin! Our hearts will be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit and we will become witnesses to the very ends of the earth. As we hope and long for the coming of that reality, let us pray. Let us unite in faith and in belief. Let us ask God, our Loving Parent, to send the Son into our hearts so that we can accomplish the mission which has been entrusted to us. “And now, Father, send us out to do the work you have given us to do, to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.”
If you remember it, I ask you now to join with me—in prayer—in the words of that first novena to the Holy Spirit. Let us pray:
“Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful.
And kindle in them the fire of your love.
Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created.
And you will renew the face of the earth.
by the light of the Holy Spirit
you have taught the hearts of your faithful.
In the same Spirit
help us to relish what is right
and always rejoice in your consolation.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.