Easter and Christmas are the two top holidays in the Christian year, of course, commemorating as they do the resurrection of Jesus (the very hinge of history) and the incarnation of Jesus (the very link of God and humanity). Whitsunday, however, surely must be number three: the celebration of the gift of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.
I’ve been reading Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians and, as is typical of Paul, the focus is on what God has done for us in Christ. Christ is the image of God, the great Revealer, and Christ is also Saviour and Lord, the great Centre of our devotion. (Our religion is called Christianity, after all, not just theism or Yahwism.)
When you look for it, however, you notice how the Spirit keeps showing up as Paul writes. Paul naturally notes—rarely directly celebrates, but often acknowledges—that the Spirit is here among us to do the things that need to be done. And there is a lot that needs to be done.
That truth is why the Spirit deserves to get his due from us. As properly as we focus on Jesus, we must also see how so much of the economy of salvation depends on the work of the Spirit, the One the Nicene Creed calls “the Lord, the Giver of Life.”
The Spirit really does take over from Jesus, not just chronologically but soteriologically. It is the Holy Spirit who, on the basis of the work of Christ, renews us so that we are born again. It is the Holy Spirit who undertakes the lifelong work of sanctifying us, of conforming us to the image of God’s dear Son. And it is the Holy Spirit who connects us with the risen and ascended Lord Jesus such that we can continue to have communion with him despite his absence: “God’s WiFi,” so to speak.
It is proper that Jesus Christ is front and centre in our worship as we give thanks through him to God the Father. He is the image of the invisible God (Father and Spirit) and we must take our guiding cues in our understanding of God from God’s fullest revelation of himself in Jesus Christ. Indeed, we must beware not to fall into the trap of shifting our main focus to the Spirit, since he is the most shadowy of the members of the Godhead, the very Wind of God whom one cannot see. Heretics have often recast God in terms they prefer by centring on the Spirit instead of resolutely measuring all doctrine by what God reveals quite specifically in Jesus.
Thus it is beautifully apt that the Holy Spirit is promised to us in Jesus’ Upper Room Discourse (John 13-17) as the Paraclete, the Advocate and Comforter, the One-Who-Is-Alongside. Jesus Christ is the chief object of our reverence as he shows us the Father, while the modest Holy Spirit stands beside us as Companion.
Of course, the truth is even better than that. The Holy Spirit is, as Jesus promised he would be, God’s penultimate move toward us in love. In the world to come, as is shown us in Revelation 21, God will be all in all, suffusing the New Jerusalem with the divine presence such that there is no need for other illumination.
But between the great gift of Jesus’ “tabernacling among us” (John 1) in a physical body so that his disciples could enjoy his presence day by day, and the ultimate dwelling of God with us all in the new age, we Christians get to enjoy the indwelling of the Holy Spirit given to the Church on Pentecost, this Spiritual day of days.
As the preachers sometimes say, “You can’t get closer than in.” The Maker of heaven and earth, the thunderous God of Sinai, the smoking and burning God of the Temple, and the radiant God of the transfigured Jesus—this God deigns to take up residence in your heart and mine as little temples.
The living God lives within us as the Lord, the Giver of Life. The Holy Spirit of God imparts life to us each moment of each day that we will yield to him, infusing us steadily with his goodness that we may steadily become more godly, eventually fit to enter that New City and receive the full presence of God in glory.
So, yes: Whitsunday is an amazing day. May we enjoy it, and the Spirit, to the full.