Bishop Rachel’s service on Pentecost Sunday

Published: Friday May 29, 2020

You are able to watch Bishop Rachel’s Pentecost service from Gloucester Cathedral here.

The Readings from the service and Bishop Rachel’s Sermon.

Acts 2:1-21

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,  and your old men shall dream dreams.
18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show portents in the heaven above  and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
20 The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

John 20: 19-23

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Bishop Rachel’s Sermon

The gathered crowd on that day of Pentecost are bewildered, astonished and perplexed. ‘What does this mean’ they asked themselves. Something unexpected has happened – the sound of rushing wind, tongues of fire and a spontaneous cacophony of different languages…

Although at least the people were gathered together! That’s true in our gospel reading too – an account of a time after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and before Jesus’ ascension.  Jesus’ disciples are gathered together, although they are behind locked doors and in a place of fear – longing for hope, freedom and peace.

Last week I was speaking with some teenagers who brought home to me in a fresh way the bewilderment, fear and perplexity of these past weeks. They expressed their longing to understand the present and what it means for their future.

Those first followers of Jesus must have had similar longings as they lived wave after wave of the unexpected.

At the beginning, when they had first made the decision to follow Jesus they had all sorts of hopes about what the future was going to look like. Then came the unexpected – it looked as if it had all gone horribly wrong – Jesus crucified – dead. And just as they begin living their grief, Jesus comes back to life. And perhaps they even dare to believe that they could pick up from where they left off. But then it all changes once again – Jesus is lifted up – literally disappears before their eyes into the clouds, and once again they are bewildered.

What they do know on that day of Jesus’ ascension, which we marked 10 days ago, is that they have been told to wait – to wait for the power of the Holy Spirit to come upon them so that Christ’s power and presence can be with his followers and in the world in every place at every time to bring transformation, healing, restoration..

There are many resonances for us as we recognise those thoughts and feelings around the unexpected, and as we live these present days of waiting – longing for each step of the recovery as we emerge from lockdown – longing for life to return to normal yet also knowing it won’t ever be the same again – and we have our longings about that too – not unlike those first followers of Jesus.

So back to our reading from the Book of Acts: It’s the day of Pentecost a Jewish harvest festival and it’s 50 days after the first Easter day and once again the unexpected happens. It’s an out of control sort of moment unlike any other. Jesus’ followers start speaking in many languages.  God is powerfully present as the Holy Spirit comes upon them.

And what we see writ large in both our readings is a coming of peace and new possibility and a new found freedom as the Holy Spirit is poured out. The Kingdom of God is breaking in and one day will be fully present. And furthermore it’s about everyone. It’s about people of every age and background – people of all nations and every language being invited into a worldwide community of Christ’s followers and choosing to participate in God’s work of transformation and restored relationship with God and all people and all creation, with Christ at the heart.

Covid-19 has brought relationship into sharp focus. We see more clearly how physical distancing goes against who we’ve been created to be. And as we try to live this strange way of being, solidarity has been important, and when it’s seemingly been breached whether by those in political leadership or those in our communities, there’s been strong reaction because we’re trying to live this landscape with one another and for one another as we battle with what it means to be physically distanced. And yes I refuse to use the term social distancing because in the Kingdom of God there is no place for distancing ourselves socially, relationally.

Perhaps we’ve glimpsed that a little more in these strange days as we’ve seen communities living inclusivity and caring for each other. It’s been there in much of our prayer and worship in new ways – and on a Thursday night people of all ages and backgrounds have expressed a togetherness as we’ve clapped and clanged and celebrated love and kindness and healing and justice….together.

Although it’s been far from a perfect rainbow. There’s been the ugliness too. Not only the pain and the death, but also the abuse and suffering behind closed doors, the vitriol on social media, the selfishness and lack of compassion whether on streets or in the way we turn our backs on the plight of our neighbours across the world. And so we’re still longing for peace and love, for freedom, healing and justice, and that’s because it’s a heartfelt longing for the kingdom of God to be revealed in every part of our lives and world. It’s why so many Christians around the world have been particularly praying ‘Thy kingdom come’ in these days between Ascension Day and Pentecost.

I long to gather once again with people in this cathedral and in our church buildings across the diocese  – for doors to be open once more for people of every age, nation and language – and yet I also know that the work of the Holy spirit and the breaking in of God’s kingdom is not contained within walls.

We can work to suppress and control a virus which wreaks destruction, pain and death, but we cannot suppress and control the Holy Spirit of God who works beyond walls for transformation, hope and life, even amid a viral pandemic.

That Old Testament vision of the prophet Joel quoted by Peter is beautiful poetry reflecting the powerful work of the uncontrollable Holy Spirit, and it’s a vision of the inclusivity of the kingdom of God – a togetherness. Yet there is also an emphasis on the need for a personal response.

Today, as we celebrate Pentecost when the Holy Spirit appeared in power as flame and rushing wind, we pray that we, with many other people, say yes and call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, perhaps even for the first time  Not so that life becomes easy or pain-free – that wasn’t true of those first disciples– but rather to open our hearts to an outpouring of the Holy Spirit and receive an ever deeper inner freedom, forgiveness, healing and peace – and in these days of the unexpected receive a renewed hope for a future yet to come when one day there will be justice and no more pain or tears or death.

As Christ’s life is fanned into flame within us may we share that life powerfully among the people and places of our lives through the uncontrollable work of the Holy Spirit.

And one last thing: In seeking healing for the wounds of the trauma of this time, and the wounds of the past, it does not mean they will disappear. When Jesus appeared to those disciples living the pain and trauma of Jesus’ death, he showed them his wounds – still present but transformed – and he spoke words of peace.

It is the work of the Holy Spirit within us and between us who can transform our wounds, bring peace, healing and freedom within us and across our world. Today is a new day of saying yes.

Come Holy Spirit fill the hearts of your people and kindle in us the fire of your love. AMEN




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