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'Holding and moving'

Whit-Sunday BCP

04 June 2006 11:00 | Fr. Roderick Leece

People are inclined to think of Whitsun as a festival of the Holy Ghost…a jamboree of the Spirit, but the danger is to misunderstand its true significance. Pentecost is not a feast like the forthcoming Feast of Corpus et Sanguis Christi, or of St. Peter. The Holy Spirit can never be isolated from the Father and the Son, or from the Church. God so loved the world that he sent his Son who suffers, dies, and is risen for us, and for our salvation. The risen Christ thereafter sends the Holy Spirit to complete his work of salvation. The Church herself is the sacrament of Christ, and as such, is much more than just an institution. She is the Spirit-filled body of Christ into whom Lola will be baptised later this morning.

The Holy Spirit is present and at work first in the world, holding all things in being, having brought order out of chaos in the earliest breath of creation. We think of the Spirit animating and bringing life and sustaining the whole universe…renewing the face of the earth, in the words of the psalmist. So we are called to listen to the world.

The life-giving Spirit overshadows Mary as she conceives and brings forth Christ the Lord, who then 'after it is finished', sends the same Spirit on his beloved body the Church as comforter and helper…the Spirit who pleads our cause and is on our side.

The Holy Spirit is present and active too, and in the heart of every Christian…emphasised in today's first hymn, the Veni Sancte Spiritus, most likely written by Stephen Langton, an Archbishop of Canterbury who died in 1222. God's Spirit brings strength and confidence, as we follow Christ in the only way God knows how - by the way of the cross, and the mystery of suffering. The Holy Spirit dwells within us, who therefore must honour our own souls and bodies more than we generally do, and each other's souls and bodies too. We are infinitely precious.

Two aspects of the work of the Holy Spirit might seem contradictory. For the Spirit both holds all things in being (providing solid ground), and is the harbinger of renewal, blowing in the winds of transformation. There are personality types (and I was told I am such a one), who do not enjoy routine and too much order, preferring to go with the flow of creative possibility at every moment, and each situation. Lucky for me then, to have learned early on, the discipline of regular piano practise as a child, and to have enjoyed the rhythm of semi-monastic routine, regarding prayer and study, at Mirfield where I trained for the priesthood. Routine and structure, providing I hope, a small corrective to my constantly wishing to follow that element of the Spirit which blows where it will. Conversely, there are other personality types who are uncomfortable with even the smallest departure from the safety of their regular routine, from the moment they get up, until they go to bed. A corrective for them, in modern parlance, would be to learn to chill out and relax, allowing new possibilities to present themselves according to the will of God's Spirit, and not get in the way.

What is true of individuals is also true of the Church too. We need to hold on to a holy routine - following the usual route…the well-beaten path…the solidity of well-tried formulae and methods, honed by timeless wisdom and experience. This image would see Christ and the Church as Rock holding faithfully to tradition. We need also to learn to trust, and to let go, and allow our constant repentance to take us to exciting new depths and holy delights. This image would see the Church as God's pilgrim people on a journey.

Both images offer a complementary insights, but it is movement of the Holy Spirit that both maintains and develops. Movement is key. The Spirit is constantly present and at work in all sacraments, moving and renewing. Divine flesh and blood are brought out of bread and wine…transforming, feeding and renewing the imago dei - the divine image within each of us…and resisting the marketeers tendency to reduce us all to things. I have been interested to read recently of an unexpected alliance between atheist organisations and the Church in addressing what is described as the 'thingification' of people and society (reification).

Thine aid supply…we need to seek guidance and inspiration…and ask for the grace or help of the Holy Spirit, who is the soul's most welcome guest, who heals our wounds, who renews our strength, who washes sins away…bending stubborn hearts and wills to receive God's love in word, sacrament and each other. This is how Archbishop Stephen Langton describes the operation of the Holy Ghost.
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