Thought for the Month (May 2010)

Dear Friends,

The Easter break is over for another year, and the secular world turns its attention to the next public holiday, which used to be 'Whitsun', but is now preceded by Harold Wilson's 'May Day' holiday weekend. Two where there once was one, May Day and the Spring Bank Holiday! Perhaps this is why you scarcely ever hear people mention 'Whitsun' now, and we prefer to call the Christian festival of the coming of the Holy Spirit 'Pentecost'.

It is forty days from Easter to Pentecost not counting Sundays, 'forty days' for Christ in the wilderness, and 'forty years' for the Hebrews in the desert. Why 'forty'? There is nothing really special about the 'forty,' it is just a nice, round number. In Bible terms 'forty days' means 'quite a long time, and 'forty years' means 'a very long time indeed'. The Bible does not say there were 'forty days' between the first Easter and the first Pentecost. St Luke just writes 'When the day of Pentecost came...' (Acts 2.1.), so the 'forty days' is only a Church tradition.

Neither is it true that the Holy Spirit comes only at Pentecost. Earlier in Luke's gospel (Luke 20, 21) we read that Jesus appeared to his disciples on the day of His resurrection and said "Peace be with you!" And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit"; and we know that the working of the Holy Spirit was acknowledged by the Jews in Old Testament times. For example, in Acts(1.16) , Peter says "Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through the mouth of David concerning Judas'. So by tradition we separate Easter from Pentecost by 'quite along time'; and when Pentecost festival finally arrives we will be celebrating the coming of a Holy Spirit which is already here. Why, then, the traditional celebration of Pentecost after a 'forty days' delay?

As someone once said, with regard to the Holy Spirit we all leak badly! We are in constant need of being re-filled by it. This is why we need to pray for God's Spirit to be 'on the preacher and among the congregation' at the start of every service of worship, and why we need to pray constantly for God's Holy Spirit to be in each of us. The annual celebration of Pentecost serves to remind us of this Christian need to be constantly re-filled by the Spirit

And the time factor? Why did the disciples have to wait 'forty days' for the Holy Spirit's full appearance? Perhaps this is because, after the stress of Easter, they were not yet ready for it. 'All in God's good time,' we say. God's Holy Spirit has to be received as well as given, and when it is not received I suspect the blockage is at our end, and it takes plenty of 'God's good time' for us to open-up and be worthy to receive it. Like the original disciples, I believe we have to pray for, and expect God's Holy Spirit, to wait for it, and to be willing to receive it when it comes.

A prayerful and expectant Pentecost to you all.

Bob Webb

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Tunbridge Wells United Reformed Church