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First Fruits of a New Creation

On the Feast of Pentecost Sunday 8th June 2003

08 June 2003 00:00 | Fr John Slater

The Great Fifty Days of Easter end today with the Feast of Pentecost - and we have sung Christus vincit for the last time for another year. Thank you for singing it so enthusiastically! At his Ascension Jesus told his disciples to stay in Jerusalem to await the Father’s promised gift of the Holy Spirit, and today we celebrate that gift not only at that first Pentecost but also in our own lives today.

In Old Testament times, Pentecost was a harvest festival. It may seem a bit early for harvest in England but not in Palestine where the fields yield two or even three crops a year. Pentecost was the Feast of First Fruits which were presented to God in thanksgiving. The Book of Deuteronomy contains a sort of creed to be recited when the gifts were offered - giving thanks for the Exodus from slavery in Egypt and the conquest of Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey, into which God had brought his people and where he had so richly blessed them.

At the end of the Easter season it seems therefore appropriate for us to count our blessings and give thanks to God for all that he has accomplished for us in Jesus Christ. In a close parallel to the Old Testament story, God has brought us from slavery to sin into the freedom of a new relationship with himself. By the incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, God has richly blessed our humanity and made for himself a dedicated people, the first fruits of a new humanity. In the Christian Pentecost, it is we who are the harvest presented to God on behalf of all humanity. What we are already, men and women united to God in Christ and filled by his Holy Spirit, all men and women can finally become also.

That first Pentecost is surely the ultimate proof of the resurrection. The disciples, who had hid in fear behind locked doors, are transformed into apostles of a new faith who travel the world with the good news of all God has accomplished in Jesus. Such a transformation is not based on illusion or wishful thinking but only on concrete experience of the Risen Christ and the inner experience of being filled by the Spirit.

The Holy Spirit has not been absent in the drama of God and humanity up to this point. At the creation of the universe Genesis describes the Spirit brooding like a dove over the primordial chaos. In the story of the people of God, the Spirit filled Moses, Aaron and the prophets, and at the climax of that story a daughter of Judah, the Blessed Virgin Mary, is filled by the Spirit to conceive the world’s redeemer. This is an act of new creation which arrests the movement of the human world away from God and begins its return to him. At his baptism, the Holy Spirit fills Jesus, descending on him like a dove. Jesus is the Christ, which means the anointed one, the one filled by the Spirit.

Remember that in the story of the flood, when Noah sends out a dove, it returns to him with a twig of an olive tree. So we associate the dove with the olive and so with olive oil and anointing. We have just celebrated the 50th anniversary of the queen’s coronation, remembering that she was anointed with holy oil to set her apart for her distinctive ministry in the life of both Church and nation. In recent years we have recovered the custom of anointing at baptism when we are united to Christ. We used to call it christening to remind us that we are anointed like Jesus Christ with the Holy Spirit.

In one sense, the Holy Spirit has only one feast day - this feast of Pentecost. But in the larger view every Sunday from now until Advent is a feast of the Spirit. For six months of the year our gaze has been focussed on what God has done for us in the past in his great works of creation and redemption in Jesus Christ. But what God has done for us he would also accomplish within us, and it is here that we must focus our attention in the coming six months.

God has poured out his Holy Spirit into our hearts giving us faith to believe in all he has done in Jesus. This is no time to be fearful, hiding behind locked doors, but rather the time to be bold in proclaiming our faith and confidently sharing it with others. Let’s not be afraid to let others know we are believers and that our lives have been transformed by God who dwells in us through the Spirit. We are, after all, the first fruits of his new creation into which all men and women are invited; we are the instruments through whom God calls others to saving faith in Jesus Christ.

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