Chaplain's thought for the week
Revd Tom reflects on the Christian festival of Pentecost
Last Sunday, Christians around the world celebrated Pentecost, a celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit to believers after the death of Jesus. Pentecost is regarded as the birthday of the Christian church, when the disciples began to spread the message about Jesus.
The story takes place after Jesus has risen from the dead, shown himself to his disciples on several occasions, and then ascended to Heaven. He had promised his disciples that he even though he could not be with them any longer, he would send the Holy Spirit to be with them. On the day of Pentecost the disciples were gathered together in Jerusalem waiting for the promise to be kept.
Suddenly, there was a great rushing of wind from Heaven, filling the house they were in, and tongues of fire rested on each of them. All of the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages. Hearing the commotion, a crowd gathered, filled with people of many different nationalities. Surprisingly, however, each one heard the disciples speaking in their own language.
Behind this story, of course, stands a much older story from the Old Testament: the Tower of Babel, a myth in which people attempt to build a tower up to Heaven ‘to make a name’ for themselves. God sees their arrogance and mixes up their language so they can no longer communicate with one another. They are separated and divided.
The larger message then in the story of Pentecost is that curse of Babel is reversed. Humans who were divided can now become united. The Holy Spirit seeks to bring unity to humanity. In the Pentecost narrative, the image for the Holy Spirit is fire, but the other image, of course, is a dove, which is perhaps more familiar. It’s a symbol of peace and unity.
I can’t think of a more disunited time in my living political memory and our young people at Exeter School are growing up in a deeply uncertain period. I believe that each of us should be open to the Spirit’s call to unity over disunity, refusing to engage in simplistic dualist thinking that seeks to divide rather than unite. This has to start at the smallest level: how can we expect greater unity on a larger political scale if we don’t model it to our young people in each of our interactions with, and comments about, others?