The Pentecostal Fountain

pentecostNote: An audio recording of this sermon is also available via Ancient Faith Radio.

Sunday of Pentecost, June 8, 2014
Rev. Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.

We come now to the “last day of the feast,” the fiftieth day from Pascha, the day of Pentecost. On this feast, we not only commemorate or celebrate the giving of the Holy Spirit as a gift to the Church, but we actually experience it mystically. We are standing there with the Apostles and the other disciples of Jesus. That Pentecost has become “today” for us, or rather, for us, our “today” has become that Pentecost.

And for all those who have been baptized and chrismated into Holy Orthodoxy, that same Spirit rests on us that rested on the Apostles and gave them such power and faith.

I have to admit that when I think about Pentecost and the Scriptures that speak of it, I mostly focus on this passage from the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles we first heard read today, which recounts the actual event of the giving of the Holy Spirit, how the Apostles preached and everyone heard in his own language, how in that same chapter we learn that 3,000 were baptized in a single day.

But we should also turn to the Gospel reading when considering Pentecost, which was chosen for this feast by our Fathers just as much as the reading from Acts. In this reading, which has selections from both the seventh and eighth chapters of John’s Gospel, we read how Jesus predicts the first Christian Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit would be given. It is perhaps not obvious from His words that that’s what He’s doing, but John himself gives us that interpretation. Let’s hear again the beginning of that passage:

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and proclaimed, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.’” Now this He said about the Spirit, which those who believed in Him were to receive; for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

First, we should note that there is one parallel here from the beginning. John says that Jesus stood up “on the last day of the feast, the great day.” Now, we are here at the “last day” of the Paschal season, and it is indeed a “great day,” the day of Pentecost. And the pairing of Pentecost with Pascha has its roots in Judaism, which celebrated Pentecost on the fiftieth day after Passover. And Pascha is simply the Greek word for Passover.

But the “last day” which Jesus is standing up on here is not the Jewish Pentecost. Rather, here He is speaking on the final day of the Feast of Tabernacles, which was one of the three great feasts of ancient Judaism (along with Passover and Pentecost). This feast commemorated the time when the Hebrew people wandered in the wilderness for forty years after coming out of Egypt and before they came to the Promised Land. During these years, they lived in mobile tabernacles. And so during the feast, the Jews would build temporary housing outside of their own homes and live in it during the feast. Faithful Jews still do this to this very day.

So Jesus stands up here on this final day of the Feast of Tabernacles and says, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.’” What does this have to do with the Feast of Tabernacles?

In Jesus’ time, the feast would be concluded by a ritual pouring out of water from the pool of Siloam mixed with wine on the foot of the sacrificial altar. This pouring out would both be for a purification of the altar and also in commemoration of the time that the Hebrews during their wandering in the wilderness had no water to drink, and so a rock was struck by Moses (Exodus 17:1-7), and God miraculously caused it to become a fountain. The altar here became the symbolic rock from which flowed forth life-giving water.

When Paul writes his first epistle to the Corinthians, he makes mention of this event in its tenth chapter. He says that the Hebrews “all drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from a spiritual Rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ” (I Cor. 10:4).

And so we have here a confluence of different images that come together, First, we see the ancient rock in the wilderness which Moses struck and which God caused to become a fountain of the water of life. Then, we see the sacrificial altar in the Temple in Jerusalem which had water poured out at its foot at the end of the Feast of Tabernacles to commemorate this event.

And now, we see Christ, Whom Paul calls “the Rock.” Christ is Himself struck, though not by Moses, but by the people who supposedly follow Moses. Christ Himself pours forth not water and wine, but blood and water when He is pierced while hanging on the Cross. And now we who worship at the altar of Christ see that same altar pour forth for us wine and water that have been changed to become Christ’s Blood.

All of these events and images come together to form a sort of messy mosaic of truth and power that we experience every time we celebrate the divine Eucharist.

But why does John say that Jesus is speaking about Pentecost, that day when the Holy Spirit was given as gift to those who follow Christ? Let’s hear that passage again:

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and proclaimed, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.’” Now this He said about the Spirit, which those who believed in Him were to receive; for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

Jesus speaks here of those who believe in Him—which is not just a simple agreement with particular propositions, but a true belief which carries with it true action, faith, piety, etc. The giving of the Spirit to the believer is described this way: “Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” Rather than the water that came from the rock by Moses’ act or the water that is poured out on the altar during the feast, there is a new water, a living water which comes from Christ, and this living water is the very Spirit of God, the Third Person of the Holy Trinity.

And not only is this water received by the believer, but the believer himself becomes a fountain which pours forth this water. This effect is seen most powerfully on that day of Pentecost when the Spirit is poured out on the followers of Jesus. It is not only that they are given what they need so that they may be saved, but that they also become fountains of salvation to others.

They communicate Christ to others by their presence, by their words, by their actions in this world. They are inspired. They inspire. They become fountains of the Spirit for the world. This effect is seen best in the saints, but it is available to all, the calling and destiny of every Christian.

And how are we to become those fountains of the Spirit for all? It is not enough only to be baptized and chrismated, though that is the beginning of this great gift of the Holy Spirit. It is not enough to be a “church member,” because clearly simple “membership” isn’t turning everyone into fountains of the Holy Spirit.

Rather, we must drink deeply at the well of Christ. We become converted by Christ into someone who is still ourselves and yet not ourselves—a new person, a renewed person. We become like the Apostles. Remember Peter’s betrayal of Christ? At Pentecost he became Christ’s faithful servant. Remember how most of them deserted Him before the passion? At Pentecost, they become missionaries. Remember how they balked at interactions with Gentiles and Samaritans? At Pentecost, they stepped outside themselves and their prejudices and began to preach and to bring Christ to all.

They became fountains of the life-giving Holy Spirit, who moves in all and seals us in the Son of God. We can become that, too. So let us drink deeply of the living water.

To our Lord Jesus Christ therefore be all glory, honor and worship, with His Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

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