Blog for Pentecost
When we do this we think of being filled with peace, being filled with love and kindness. We think of the light and warmth of God filling us. But I wonder if our congregations really know what they are saying when they say “Come Holy Spirit”?
In the gospel of John, Jesus says to his disciples:
“These things I have spoken to you, while I am still with you. But the Parakletos (that is most often translated as comforter), the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all I have said to you”
And it is that word “comforter” that we are always in danger of misinterpreting. Because we think of the Holy Spirit as the one who soothes, and holds us, and protects us, and makes everything all right. But the Parakletos does not come to the disciples, to help them remember all that Jesus has said, so that they can just sit and console themselves with happy memories. But instead the Spirit reminds them of Jesus words to encourage them so that they can go out into the world and get on with the hard work of building the kingdom.
This is a picture from a scene on the Bayeaux Tapestry, a tapestry which tells the story of the invasion of England by William the Conqueror. In one panel, a bishop is seen laying into a group of reluctant soldiers with the flat of his sword. The caption says: “Here Bishop Odo uses his staff to comfort the boys.” A strange kind of comfort indeed!
The word comfort I guess literally means to encourage - “comfort” = Com Fort = With Strength. To comfort someone is to give strength to those who are weak and vulnerable. In the scenes recorded by the tapestry, the Norman troops are scared by the impressive fighting of the English under Harold. Some of them thought of deserting, others of refusing to go into battle. Until Bishop Odo came and comforted them, that is!
The disciples in Acts were weak and vulnerable, until the Holy Spirit came and strengthened them for the task in hand. We see the transformation of a group of scared individuals into a bold and charismatic team of Apostles who begin a worldwide movement.
So my biggest hope is that when those in our congregations call upon the Holy Spirit to come again into the church, and into their lives in the coming month, they are not looking to be wrapped up in a nice warm blanket and listen to soothing words. But they really do invite this Holy Spirit, this wild fire, this hurricane to tear through our church. Asking the comforter to come among us and wield his staff like Bishop Odo, and to strengthen us so that we can set about again the work of building the kingdom.
Send your Holy Spirit upon us,
and upon our churches,
and into the communities where we live.
Comfort us when we are feeling weak and vulnerable.
Strengthen us for mission.
So that we can continue the work of those first apostles -
reaching out in ways that overcame the barriers of language and nationality and difference.
and bring to our remembrance all that you have said,
and so inspire us to continue building the kingdom, in the places that you have sent us.