“Receive the Holy Spirit…”

The New Testament gives us two accounts of the giving of the Holy Spirit. They are to be found at the end of St John’s Gospel (Chapter 20 vv. 19-23) and at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles (Chapter 2 vv. 1-4) and they couldn’t be more different from each other.

John’s account tells how on the first Easter Day:
“when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews”
Jesus appears to the disciples and gently breathes on them saying
“Receive the Holy Spirit.”

In The Acts of the Apostles we find the fledgling Christian church gathered “in one place”. The Spirit, like a violent wind, blows through the whole house, and pushes the disciples out of the safety of the house into the streets of Jerusalem as
“All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.”

In the first, the reassuring presence of Jesus and the gentle symbolism of breathing brings comfort to fearful disciples. In the second a disturbing, howling wind, accompanied by what appear to be tongues of fire, empowers the same disciples to continue the work of Jesus across the world and across the centuries.

I suppose it is because of our recent experience of “lock down” that I particularly noticed the location of these experiences. In both cases the disciples are gathered together inside a house and in John’s Gospel explicitly at least “for fear of the Jews”. We have known something of that experience over the past weeks as fear of Covid-19 has, quite rightly, kept most of us in or close to our homes, shielded from harm and distanced from one another. Fear is a powerful force in our lives. It makes us sensitive to danger and alert to potential harm. As such it is a useful and healthy emotion. When, however, it begins to overwhelm us and paralyse us then fear is a harm.

On that first Easter Day Jesus speaks words of peace to those rightly fearful disciples as he gently breathes over them. But a time is coming when they must overcome those fears and begin again the work and ministry to which he has called them. That will need more than a gentle breeze. It will need the force of a violent wind.

And what of us? In the coming days, when it becomes appropriate to our circumstances, how will we set aside the anxiety and fear of the past weeks, leave the safety of our homes and return once more to the hurly burly of the streets outside?

Pentecost reminds us that God has provided “another Comforter” in time of need, to allay our fears and to embolden our spirits. Whether He comes as a gentle dove or as a howling wind the call to us is the same. “Receive the Holy Spirit……”

David Taylor 30/5/20