31 May 2020

‘The doors of the house
where the disciples had
met were locked for fear’

‘The doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear’ (John 20: 19) … locked doors at Easter in the side streets of Panormos, near Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 31 May 2020,

The Day of Pentecost (Whit Sunday)

The Parish Eucharist

The Readings: Acts 2: 1-21; Psalm 104: 26-36, 37b; I Corinthians 12: 3b-13; John 20: 19-23.

There is a link to the readings HERE.

‘The Day of Pentecost’ or ‘The Descent of the Holy Spirit’ by Titian in the Church of Santa Maria della Salute in Venice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

The Day of Pentecost in the Church calendar is the Birthday of the Church and the day we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit.

This morning we hear two accounts of the gift of the Holy Spirit for the Church. In the Acts of the Apostles, Saint Luke associates the gift of the Holy Spirit with the great festival of in-gathering, Pentecost, 50 days after Passover.

On the other hand, in Saint John’s Gospel, we hear too that the Holy Spirit is the gift of Christ’s resurrection, on the Day of the Resurrection itself.

Yes, of course, both accounts are true.

Early on Easter morning, Mary Magdalene finds that body of Jesus is missing from the tomb. She assumes that the man standing nearby is the gardener, but when he speaks to her, she recognises him as Christ. She has told the disciples: ‘I have seen the Lord’ (verse 18).

Now, in this morning’s Gospel reading (John 20: 19-23), the Risen Christ now appears to his disciples. He bears still the marks of his passion and crucifixion, yet can pass through doors; he is truly alive.

Earlier, he has said ‘[my] peace I leave with you’ (John 14: 27). Now he now sends out the disciples, and the Church, to continue his work (verse 21). To early Christians, the exaltation of Jesus, his appearances and the giving of the Holy Spirit all become one event.

Quite often we think the gift of the Holy Spirit is something to consider only at ordination or at confirmation, or it is just left as a gift for Charismatic Evangelicals to talk about. But the gift of the Holy Spirit does not stop being effective the day after confirmation, the day after ordination, the day after hearing someone speaking in tongues, or the day after Pentecost.

How many people in America this morning, as they turn to those words in the Gospel describing how Christ breathed on the disciples, how many must think of George Floyd’s dying words on the street, as a policeman squeezed his neck, ‘I can’t breathe’?

For the gifts that Christ breathes on his disciple this morning are the gifts of life, the gifts of the Spirit, the gift of peace, the gift of forgiveness, but also the gift of calling people to account for their sins.

In America today, divided by racism and violence, we see a society that is so in need of those Pentecost gifts where ‘young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams’ (Acts 2: 17). Instead, the one old man who is charged with dreaming dreams is giving oxygen to bigotry and violence, while young people on the streets wonder who has a vision for justice and truth.

The gift of the Holy Spirit marks the beginning, the birthday, of the Church. And this is a gift that does not cease to be effective after Pentecost Day. The gift of the Holy Spirit remains with the Church – for all times.

In both Pentecost stories this morning, the disciples are found locked away in fear, behind shut and bolted doors, afraid to go out into the world, afraid of what may be waiting for them out there.

They have been there for ten days, since the Day of Ascension. Had they been locked away for ten weeks, many of us going through this Covid-19 pandemic lockdown would fully identify with their isolation and their fears.

But Christ never leaves us on our own, so that we may fade away in fear and isolation on the one hand or, on the other, soar into spiritual fantasy and relish the prospects of more magic and more religion.

‘Little Gidding,’ the fourth and final poem in the Four Quartets, is TS Eliot’s own Pentecost poem, written after his visit to Little Gidding on Ascension Day 1936 (21 May 1936), ten days before Pentecost that year (31 May 1936).

‘Little Gidding’ begins in ‘the dark time of the year,’ when a brief and glowing afternoon sun ‘flames the ice, on pond and ditches’ as it ‘stirs the dumb spirit’ not with wind but with ‘pentecostal fire.’

At the end of the poem, Eliot describes how the eternal is contained within the present and how history exists in a pattern, and repeating the words of Julian of Norwich, he is assured:

And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

I have no doubts that the Holy Spirit works in so many ways that we cannot understand. And I have no doubts that the Holy Spirit works best and works most often in the quiet small ways that bring hope rather than in the big dramatic ways that seek to control, in little ways dispel fear when we most feel isolated and alone.

Sometimes, even when it seems foolish, sometimes, even when it seems extravagant, it is worth being led by the Holy Spirit. Because the Holy Spirit may be leading us to surprising places, and, surprisingly, leading others there too, counting them in when we thought they were counted out.

Our task as disciples is to prepare to go out into the world, to bear fruit, to let the seed sown in death rise to new life. What matters is life and love.

This account of the first Day of Pentecost is a sharp reminder that Pentecost is for all. The Holy Spirit is not an exclusive gift for the 12, for the inner circle, for the believers, or even for the Church.

The gift of the Holy Spirit marks the beginning, the birthday, of the Church, so perhaps champagne is the right image as we celebrate the birthday of the Church. But this is a gift that does not cease being given after Pentecost.

God never leaves us alone. This is what Christ promises the disciples, the whole Church, as he breaks through the locked doors and breaks through all their fears.

We need have no fears, for the Resurrection breaks through all the barriers of time and space, of gender and race, of language and colour.

Because of this gift, the Church is brought together in diversity and sustained in unity..

As we affirm our faith in the words of the Nicene Creed, as we say ‘We believe in the Holy Spirit,’ do we really believe in the Holy Spirit as ‘the Lord, the giver of life’?

Pentecost promises hope. But hope is not certainty, manipulating the future for our own ends, it is trusting in God’s purpose … no matter how difficult that is in these days of pandemic ‘lockdown.’

The gift of the Holy Spirit remains with the Church – for all times.

Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

‘Come Holy Spirit’ … the holy water stoup in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Acts 2: 1-21 (NRSVA):

1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 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. 3 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7 Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9 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”.’

‘The doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear’ (John 20: 19) … locked doors on Princelet Street in the East End of London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

John 20: 19-23 (NRSVA):

19 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.’

‘ … all shall be well and / All manner of thing shall be well’ (TS Eliot, ‘Little Gidding’) … sunset seen from the Sunset Taverna in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical colour: Red (Pentecost, Year A)

Greeting (from Easter until Pentecost):

Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Penitential Kyries:

Great and wonderful are your deeds,
Lord God the Almighty

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

You are the King of glory, O Christ.

Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Come Holy Ghost, our souls inspire.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty God,
who on the day of Pentecost
sent your Holy Spirit to the apostles
with the wind from heaven and in tongues of flame,
filling them with joy and boldness to preach the gospel:
By the power of the same Spirit
strengthen us to witness to your truth
and to draw everyone to the fire of your love;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Introduction to the Peace:

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace.
If we live in the Spirit, let us walk in the Spirit.
Galatians 5: 22


Through Jesus Christ our Lord,
according to whose promise
the Holy Spirit came to dwell in us,
making us your children,
and giving us power to proclaim the gospel throughout the world:

Post Communion Prayer:

Faithful God,
who fulfilled the promises of Easter
by sending us your Holy Spirit
and opening to every race and nation the way of life eternal:
Open our lips by your Spirit,
that every tongue may tell of your glory;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.


The Spirit of truth lead you into all truth,
give you grace to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
and to proclaim the words and works of God …

Dismissal (from Easter Day to Pentecost):

Go in the peace of the Risen Christ. Alleluia! Alleluia!
Thanks be to God. Alleluia! Alleluia!

‘Spirit of God unseen as the wind’ (Hymn 386) … sunrise on the River Slaney at Ferrycarrig near Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)


386, Spirit of God unseen as the wind
310, Spirit of the living God
296, Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire
293, Breathe on me, Breath of God

‘Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire’ (Hymn 296) … sunset on the beach at Platanias near Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

This sermon was prepared for a united group celebration of the Parish Eucharist in the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes on the Day of Pentecost, 31 May 2020, and was part of a celebration of the Eucharist in Saint Mary’s Rectory, Askeaton, Co Limerick

‘And the fire and the rose are one’ (TS Eliot, ‘Little Gidding’) … a candle and a rose on a dinner table in Minares on Vernardou Street, Rethymnon, in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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