Saturday, 19 May 2012

Job’s Comforters and waiting for the Holy Spirit

In the Orthodox Church they speak eloquently of the Church being the realised or lived Pentecost

Patrick Comerford

Sunday next (27 May 2012) is the Day of Pentecost, or Whitsunday. It may pass the attention of many parishioners as Monday is not a bank holiday, and the notion of “Whit Weekend” has passed to the following weekend.

I imagine because it falls on the fourth Sunday of the month, some of our rectors and parishes may not even celebrate the Eucharist tomorrow week, although Pentecost is one of three most important of the Principal Holy Days listed in the Book of Common Prayer (2004), and there is a direction: “On these days the Holy Communion is celebrated in every cathedral and parish church unless the ordinary shall otherwise direct” (p. 18).

I hope to be at the Choral Eucharist in Lichfield Cathedral that morning. How many of you are preaching that Sunday?

The readings in the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) for the Day of Pentecost (Year B) are:

● Acts 2: 1-21 or Ezekiel 37: 1-14;
● Psalm 104: 26-36, 37b;
● Romans 8: 22-27 or Acts 2: 1-21;
● John 15: 26-27, 16: 4b-15.

You can see from this that there is a strong emphasis on ensuring that the account in the Acts of the Apostles of the first Pentecost is read in all our churches, no matter what else is read.

But I have a feeling that this story is so familiar to most of our clergy, that this is the passage they are going to preach from, and I think few are going to preach from the Gospel reading (John 15: 26-27, 16: 4b-15).

Yet this Gospel reading is important for our Trinitarian and Christological understandings, and so I have chosen this Gospel passage for our Bible study this morning and I hope our discussions help those of you are preaching on the Day of Pentecost.

Κατά Ιωάννην Ευαγγέλιον, Κεφαλαιον ΙΕ, 26-27; Κεφαλαιον ΙΣΤ, 4β-15

26 Οταν ἔλθῃ ὁ παράκλητος ὃν ἐγὼ πέμψω ὑμῖν παρὰ τοῦ πατρός, τὸ πνεῦμα τῆς ἀληθείας ὃ παρὰ τοῦ πατρὸς ἐκπορεύεται, ἐκεῖνος μαρτυρήσει περὶ ἐμοῦ: 27 καὶ ὑμεῖς δὲ μαρτυρεῖτε, ὅτι ἀπ' ἀρχῆς μετ' ἐμοῦ ἐστε.

4 ταῦτα λελάληκα ὑμῖν ἵνα ὅταν ἔλθῃ ἡ ὥρα αὐτῶν μνημονεύητε αὐτῶν ὅτι ἐγὼ εἶπον ὑμῖν.

Ταῦτα δὲ ὑμῖν ἐξ ἀρχῆς οὐκ εἶπον, ὅτι μεθ' ὑμῶν ἤμην. 5 νῦν δὲ ὑπάγω πρὸς τὸν πέμψαντά με, καὶ οὐδεὶς ἐξ ὑμῶν ἐρωτᾷ με, Ποῦ ὑπάγεις; 6 ἀλλ' ὅτι ταῦτα λελάληκα ὑμῖν ἡ λύπη πεπλήρωκεν ὑμῶν τὴν καρδίαν. 7 ἀλλ' ἐγὼ τὴν ἀλήθειαν λέγω ὑμῖν, συμφέρει ὑμῖν ἵνα ἐγὼ ἀπέλθω. ἐὰν γὰρ μὴ ἀπέλθω, ὁ παράκλητος οὐκ ἐλεύσεται πρὸς ὑμᾶς: ἐὰν δὲ πορευθῶ, πέμψω αὐτὸν πρὸς ὑμᾶς. 8 καὶ ἐλθὼν ἐκεῖνος ἐλέγξει τὸν κόσμον περὶ ἁμαρτίας καὶ περὶ δικαιοσύνης καὶ περὶ κρίσεως: 9 περὶ ἁμαρτίας μέν, ὅτι οὐ πιστεύουσιν εἰς ἐμέ: 10 περὶ δικαιοσύνης δέ, ὅτι πρὸς τὸν πατέρα ὑπάγω καὶ οὐκέτι θεωρεῖτέ με: 11 περὶ δὲ κρίσεως, ὅτι ὁ ἄρχων τοῦ κόσμου τούτου κέκριται.

12 Ἔτι πολλὰ ἔχω ὑμῖν λέγειν, ἀλλ' οὐ δύνασθε βαστάζειν ἄρτι: 13 ὅταν δὲ ἔλθῃ ἐκεῖνος, τὸ πνεῦμα τῆς ἀληθείας, ὁδηγήσει ὑμᾶς ἐν τῇ ἀληθείᾳ πάσῃ: οὐ γὰρ λαλήσει ἀφ' ἑαυτοῦ, ἀλλ' ὅσα ἀκούσει λαλήσει, καὶ τὰ ἐρχόμενα ἀναγγελεῖ ὑμῖν. 14 ἐκεῖνος ἐμὲ δοξάσει, ὅτι ἐκ τοῦ ἐμοῦ λήμψεται καὶ ἀναγγελεῖ ὑμῖν. 15 πάντα ὅσα ἔχει ὁ πατὴρ ἐμά ἐστιν: διὰ τοῦτο εἶπον ὅτι ἐκ τοῦ ἐμοῦ λαμβάνει καὶ ἀναγγελεῖ ὑμῖν.

John 15: 26-27, 16: 4b-15

[Jesus said to his disciples:]

26 ‘When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. 27 You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.

4 I have said these things to you so that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you about them.

‘I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. 5 But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, “Where are you going?” 6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. 7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgement: 9 about sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11 about judgement, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.

12 ‘I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.’

The Holy Spirit at Pentecost

In the liturgical calendar of the Church, we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit as an event that happened at the great festival of ingathering, Pentecost, 50 days after Passover, following Saint Luke’s symbolic timing.

In Saint John’s Gospel, the Holy Spirit is the gift of Christ’s resurrection, on resurrection day (see John 20: 21-22).

But, of course, both are true.

Christ has not left us on our own, so that we may soar into spiritual fantasy and relish the prospects of more magic and more religion. Our task as disciples is to bear fruit, to let the seed sown in death rise to new life. What matters is life and love.

This reading is the part of Christ’s last discourse with the disciples. He speaks about the gift of the Holy Spirit and the character of the Holy Spirit. The context of this speech is that in the Gospel of John, the audience, beginning in chapter 13, is addressed as disciples. This reading is part of that concluding discourse that goes on for 20 to 25 minutes. It is the most intimate time in the whole of the Gospel story between Christ, the disciples and God the Father – it is a time when all of these are brought together.

At this intimate moment after the Last Supper, Christ continues to tell the disciples about the mission they are to going to be part of.

The “Advocate” is the Holy Spirit; he is the “spirit of truth” (15: 26; 16: 13), and will be sent to the disciples or to the Church, by Christ, “from the Father.”

The Church too is to witness to an to work with the Holy Spirit, by living the life that Christ made possible, continuing Christ’s work in the world (15: 27).

Why does Christ say: “yet none of you asks me ...” (16: 5)? They have asked the question earlier (see John 13: 36 and John 14: 5). Perhaps he is saying that when our hearts are filled with “sorrow” or we preoccupied with “sorrow” (John 16: 6), we are missing the main point: the coming of the Spirit.

Then in the next verse (John 16: 7), Christ tells the disciples that by leaving them he is able to send the Paracelete.

One thing the Paraclete will do is to show the κόσμος (16: 8), the world, or even the whole created order, that it is wrong about three things:

● sin – because they do not believe in him (16: 9);
● righteousness – because he is going to the Father (16: 10);
● judgment – because the ruler of this world has been condemned (16: 11).

In verses 12-13, we are told the Spirit will tell the disciples things Christ has not told them. In his guidance, he will speak what comes to him from God, as Christ has spoken what the Father has told him. The Spirit will prophesy about events “to come,” the Spirit will reveal the essential nature of God, and the Spirit will glorify or show Christ’s essential nature and power (16: 14).

Whether the word comes from the Father, the Son, or the Spirit, it is the same.

In this passage, the Koine Greek word used for the Spirit is παράκλητος (parákletos). It is a word with a wide range of meanings that include advocate, encourager or comforter. So, the word can signify:

1, Someone who consoles or comforts.
2, Someone who encourages or uplifts.
3, Someone who refreshes.
4, Someone summoned or called to one’s side, especially called to one’s aid.
5, Someone who pleads another’s cause before a judge, a pleader, the counsel for the defence, a legal assistant, an advocate.
6, Someone who intercedes to plead another person’s cause before another person, an intercessor.
7, In the widest sense, a helper, one who provides succour or aid, an assistant.

So,in its use, παράκλητος appears to belong primarily to legal imagery. In this passage from Saint John’s Gospel, it is used beside the language of testifying, and where the activity of the Paraclete is to lay down evidence sufficient to win a case on a number of issues awaiting judgment.

The word παράκλητος is passive in form, and etymologically it originally signified being “called to one’s side.” The active form of the word, παρακλήτωρ (parakletor), is not found in the New Testament but is found in the Septuagint in the plural, and means “comforters,” in the saying of Job regarding the “miserable comforters” who failed to rekindle his spirit in his time of distress: “I have heard many such things; miserable comforters are you all” (Job 16: 2).

However, the word παράκλητος in passive form is not found in the Septuagint, where other words are used to translate the Hebrev word מְנַחֵם‎ (mənaḥḥēm “comforter”) and מליץ יושר (Melitz Yosher).

In Classical Greek, the term is not common in non-Jewish texts. But the best known use is by Demosthenes:

“Citizens of Athens, I do not doubt that you are all pretty well aware that this trial has been the centre of keen partisanship and active canvassing, for you saw the people who were accosting and annoying you just now at the casting of lots. But I have to make a request which ought to be granted without asking, that you will all give less weight to private entreaty or personal influence than to the spirit of justice and to the oath which you severally swore when you entered that box. You will reflect that justice and the oath concern yourselves and the commonwealth, whereas the importunity and party spirit of advocates serve the end of those private ambitions which you are convened by the laws to thwart, not to encourage for the advantage of evil-doers. (Demosthenes, On the False Embassy, 19: 1).

In Jewish writings, Philo of Alexandria speaks at several times of “paraclete” advocates, primarily in the sense of human intercessors. The word later passed from Hellenistic Jewish writing into rabbinical Hebrew writing.

In the Greek New Testament, the word is most prominent in the Johannine writings, but is also used elsewhere:

1, In Saint Matthew’s Gospel (see Matthew 5: 4), Christ uses the verb παρακληθήσονται (paraclethesontai), traditionally interpreted to signify “to be refreshed, encouraged, or comforted.” The text may also be translated as vocative as well as the traditional nominative. Then the meaning of παρακληθήσονται, also informative of the meaning of the name, or noun Paraclete, implicates “are going to summon” or “will be breaking off.” The Paraclete may thus mean “the one who summons” or “the one who, or that which, makes free.”

2, In Saint John’s Gospel, it is used four times (14: 16, 14: 26, 15: 26, and 16: 7), where it may be translated into English as counsellor, helper, encourager, advocate, or comforter. In the first instance (John 14: 16), however, when Christ says “another Paraclete” will come to help his disciples, is he implying that he is the first and primary Paraclete?

3, In I John 2: 1, παράκλητος is used to describe the intercessory role of Christ, who advocates for us or pleads on our behalf to the Father.

The Early Church identified the Paraclete with the Holy Spirit (Το Άγιο Πνεύμα) received in the accounts in the Acts of the Apostles (see Acts 1: 5, 1: 8, 2: 4, and 2: 38; see also Matthew 3: 10-12 and Luke 3: 9-17).

The word Paraclete may also have been used in the Early Church as a way of describing the Spirit’s help when Christians were hauled before courts. Christ has already promised “When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit” (Mark 13: 11; see Luke 12: 11-12).

In the first part of our Gospel reading (John 15: 26-27) on Sunday week, much of the legal imagery remains intact. Here the Spirit is the advocate employed by the Father to advocate on behalf of the Son. Even the language of “sending” is legal, since one of the major avenues of communication in the ancient world was through one’s legal agent or ἀπόστολος (apostolos), “sent one.”

So the role of the Spirit is to make a case for Christ in the court of the world and to help us to do so. That is our task in mission as the Church.

Pentecost (El Greco) … ‘When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf’ (John 15: 26)

A birthday gift?

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.

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, even if the lectern and pulpit falls change from red to green. The gift of the Holy Spirit remains with the Church – for all times.

Indeed, in the Orthodox Church they speak eloquently of the Church being the realised or lived Pentecost.

We celebrate the Feast of Pentecost 50 days after Easter and on the Sunday that falls 10 days after the Ascension. Pentecost recalls the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles at Pentecost. But it is also the Birthday of the Church, founded through the preaching of the Apostles and the baptism of the thousands who on that day believed in the Gospel of Christ.

The icon of the Feast of Pentecost is an icon of bold colours of red and gold signifying that this is a great event. The movement of the icon is from the top to the bottom. At the top of the icon is a semicircle with rays coming from it. The rays are pointing toward the Apostles, and the tongues of fire are seen descending upon each one of them signifying the descent of the Holy Spirit.

The building in the background of the icon represents the upper room where the Disciples of Christ gathered after the Ascension. The Apostles are shown seated in a semicircle which shows the unity of the Church. Included in the group of the Apostles is Saint Paul, who, though not present with the others on the day of Pentecost, became an Apostle of the Church and the greatest missionary. Also included are the four Evangelists – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – holding books of the Gospel, while the other Apostles are holding scrolls that represent the teaching authority given to them by Christ.

In the centre of the icon below the Apostles, a royal figure is seen against a dark background. This is a symbolic figure, the κόσμος (Cosmos), representing the people of the world living in darkness and in sin. However, this figure carries in his hands a cloth containing scrolls which represent the teaching of the Apostles. The tradition of the Church holds that the Apostles carried the message of the Gospel to all parts of the world.

In the icon of Pentecost we see the fulfilment of the promise of the Holy Spirit, sent down upon the Apostles who will teach the nations and baptise them in the name of the Holy Trinity. Here we see that the Church is brought together and sustained in unity through the presence and work of the Holy Spirit, that the Spirit guides the Church in the missionary endeavour throughout the world, and that the Spirit nurtures the Body of Christ, the Church, in truth and love.

Orthodox prayer of the Holy Spirit:

Heavenly King, Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, everywhere present and filling all things, Treasury of blessings and Giver of life: come and abide in us, cleanse us from every impurity and save our souls, O Good One.

Hymns of the Feast:

Blessed are You, O Christ our God, who made fishermen all-wise, by sending down upon them the Holy Spirit, and through them, drawing all the world into your net. O Loving One, glory be to You.


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.

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.

Canon Patrick Comerford is lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This essay is based on notes prepared for a Bible study in a tutorial group with MTh students on 19 May 2012.