Here’s my homily for Pentecost, which was a week ago on the Orthodox calendar for 2012:
Today is the Sunday of Pentecost, when we commemorate the Holy Spirit coming upon the followers of the Risen Jesus, which is the birthday of the Church. The Lord had already ascended into heaven and had promised to send the Holy Spirit upon His followers. He would not leave them alone, cut off from the new life that He had brought to the world. The Spirit is, of course, the third Person of the Holy Trinity and fully God and eternal as are the Father and the Son. By the coming of the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ followers share together in the unity, power, and blessing of the Kingdom.
Now the disciples no longer think of themselves as followers and students of a rabbi or prophet. They no longer struggle to accept the good news of His resurrection. Instead, they experience the new life of the Kingdom as “rivers of living water” flowing from their hearts. By the Spirit, they participate by grace in the life of the Holy Trinity. God is not remote, distant, or removed from them; but present in their souls.
The story of Pentecost makes clear that the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles as a group who were gathered together in obedience to the Lord’s command. The same divine breath which first gave life to humanity now comes upon them as a mighty wind. The divine glory beheld by Moses in the burning bush now rests upon each of them as flames a fire. The divided speech of the tower of Babel is now overcome by the miracle of speaking in different languages so that everyone can hear the praise of the Lord. For Pentecost is not about the spiritual experiences of a select few, but about the fulfillment of God’s promises to the entire world.
We are all created in the image of God with the calling to grow in His likeness, to become like Him. But we have not done our best not become like Him; and even if we had, it is no small thing to become like God, holy and righteous and immortal. We simply cannot conquer death and sin by our own power. Only God is God, and our only hope is to share by grace in His eternal life. And this participation in the divine life is made possible to us at Pentecost. It does not matter what language we speak, the nation to which we belong, the color of our skin, our gender, our abilities and skills, our occupation, education, or resources. What matters is that God’s Spirit has been poured out on the whole world and on every generation.
At Pentecost, we are raised to the dignity of members of Christ’s Body. With the Holy Spirit in our hearts, linking us together organically as one, our fallen, divided humanity is restored. Just as Father, Son, and Spirit share a common life of love, unity, and holiness, we share a common life in Christ’s Body, the Church. As particular people, we have the responsibility to believe, repent, and obey the Lord as we participate in the ministries of the Church. As members of Christ’s Body, we are nurtured by worship, the sacraments, and spiritual instruction in our common life. The holy Tradition of the Church is the presence of the Holy Spirit, guiding the Body into ever greater knowledge of and participation in the life of the Holy Trinity.
For we receive the Holy Spirit not as isolated individuals, but as persons in communion, in loving relationship with God and with one another in the Church. So let us celebrate Pentecost by opening our lives as fully as possible to the healing, transforming power of the Spirit both in the privacy of our thoughts and deeds and in our shared life in the Body. No, the world does not revolve around us as isolated individuals: such isolation and division are nothing but symptoms of sin. But the life of the world has come at Pentecost and we are called to take our place in the new reality born on this day, the Church, the Body of Christ, in which all the divisions and corruptions of humanity since Adam and Eve are healed. As particular people who are members of one another in Christ, let us open ourselves as completely as possible to the Holy Spirit, for it is through Him—and one another– that we share in eternal life.