23 May 2021

How do you imagine the Holy Spirit?
What does the Holy Spirit look like?

‘Spirit of the living God’ (Hymn 386) … sunrise on the River Slaney at Ferrycarrig near Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 23 May 2021, the Day of Pentecost (Whit Sunday)

Castletown Church, Kilcornan

11 am: The Parish Eucharist

The Readings: Acts 2: 1-21; Psalm 104: 26-36, 37b; John 15: 26-27, 16: 4b-15.

There is a link to the readings HERE.

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

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

I enjoy the recent story about children who were spending some time at school drawing.

The teacher moved around the class, looking at each child’s work, asking about their ideas and giving positive approval and affirmation.

She came to one small boy working very earnestly, and asked, ‘What are you drawing?’

‘I’m drawing a picture of God!’

‘But no-one knows what God looks like,’ she said.

‘They will when they see my picture!’

Are we confident, like that small boy, of knowing what God is like?

We are all used to those child-like images that now seem outdated and old-fashioned of God the Father as an old man with grey hair and a long white beard – not that, I should add hastily – that old men with grey hair and long white beards are ever going to be outdated or out of fashion.

I am sure we all have our own favourite images of Christ too: it may be the caring Christ as the Good Shepherd, the incarnate Christ as the child at Christmas, the redeeming Christ on the Cross, the Christ of faith as the Risen Christ of Easter, or the Christ of Hope in his coming as Christ the King.

Whichever one appeals to you says a lot about your own prayer-life: whether you have a particular emphasis on Faith, Hope or Love.

Nor are these the only traditional images of Christ that are available for us to explore. We might, for example, learn fresh insights from Roman Catholic images of Christ as the Sacred Heart or Orthodox images of Christ the Pantocrator, the ruler of all creation, or Christ as the Lamb on the Throne.

But what about the Holy Spirit?

For most of us, it is very difficult to describe the Holy Spirit. And this is made more difficult by language that was already out-of-date and old-fashioned when we were growing up, language that called the Holy Spirit the Holy Ghost, long after the word ‘ghost’ had come to have another meaning.

At times, I think, our thinking about the Holy Spirit is made difficult by traditional images of a dove that looks more like a homing pigeon than like the Holy Spirit that hovers and dances, approvingly and with joy and delight, over the waters of Creation (see Genesis 1: 2) and over Christ at his baptism.

Nor is our thinking helped by the way artists in the past depicted the tongues of fire in our reading from the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2: 1-21), so often dancing around meekly-bowed heads of people cowering and hiding in a cramped upstairs room in a small house in Jerusalem, rather than a room that is bursting at the seams and ready to overflow.

So, what does the Holy Spirit look like?

Has anyone read The Shack by William Paul Young (2007), or seen the movie (2017)?

In The Shack, Sarayu fulfils the role of the Holy Spirit in the three-part version of God seen in the novel – the other parts being Jesus and Papa. Jesus explains to Mack Phillips that her name means ‘a common wind’ in one human language.

The nature of her role and her characteristics remain mysterious, and she seems to be the embodiment of some of God’s supernatural properties, such as being all-knowing and ever-present.

She appears as an Asian woman with a shimmering, almost transparent appearance that makes her slightly difficult to look at. When she takes Mack to a garden representing his wild yet ordered soul, Sarayu attempts to help Mack to understand the nature of his innermost spiritual self as well as how to comprehend and manage his feelings.

That seems like a good effort in modern literature to portray the Holy Spirit. But how might we see the Holy Spirit at work? When and where?

In the Gospel reading, Christ promises to send the Advocate (verse 8).

But what is the ‘Advocate’? What does the word ‘Advocate’ mean?

If we don’t confuse the word with a strong, yellow Dutch drink made of eggs and brandy, most of us probably only come across this word in books like John Grisham novels, describing a lawyer in a criminal court case.

And I am not going to make things easier by saying the word used in the Gospel passage is ‘Paraclete’ or παράκλητος (parákletos). Paraclete? What does it mean? Paraclete, parachute, paramedic … what does it mean? Why can’t we just make it easy when it comes to talking about the Holy Spirit this morning?

Well, this is a word that has 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, to one’s aid
5, Someone who pleads someone else’s cause before a judge … a pleader, the counsel for the defence – there’s that John Grisham novel again – a legal assistant, an advocate
6, Someone who intercedes in someone else’s cause before a third party, person, an intercessor
7, In the widest sense, a helper, one who provides succour or aid, an assistant.

The word paraclete (παράκλητος) originally signified being ‘called to one’s side.’

In Classical Greek, the best-known use of the term is in a speech by Demosthenes.

During a trial, he asks, he urges, he pleads with the Citizens of Athens to ignore personal preferences and prejudices and to listen ‘to the spirit of justice,’ to ignore the ‘party spirit of advocates’ who serve ‘private ambitions’ to ‘the advantage of evil-doers’ (Demosthenes, On the False Embassy, 19: 1).

So, it is a word that comes from Greek writings rather than earlier Biblical passages in Hebrew. We find it most often in the Johannine writings, but it is used elsewhere:

1, In Saint Matthew’s Gospel (see Matthew 5: 4), Christ uses a verb (παρακληθήσονται, paraclethesontai), that talks about being ‘refreshed, encouraged, or comforted.’ But is also implies the Paraclete is ‘the one who sets free.’

2, In Saint John’s Gospel, the word is used four times (14: 16, 14: 26, 15: 26, and 16: 7), and is often translated into English as counsellor, helper, encourager, advocate, or comforter.

3, In I John 2: 1, the word (παράκλητος) describes the intercessory role of Christ, who advocates for us, who pleads on our behalf to the Father.

The Early Church identifies the Paraclete with the Holy Spirit (Το Άγιο Πνεύμα) received at Pentecost in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles (see Acts 1: 5, 1: 8, 2: 4, and 2: 38).

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.

So, if I were to be child-like and try to find an image of the Holy Spirit, I would want to draw images of someone who speaks up for people who have no-one to speak up for them, someone who stands alongside people who are being oppressed, people being treated unfairly or unjustly, the victims of violence and discrimination; someone who encourages, refreshes, consoles, comforts, takes the risks of speaking up and speaking out.

Someone who does this constantly, someone who does this with integrity and hope, especially when those who benefit least expect it, is like the Holy Spirit for me.

And, like the Holy Spirit, they break down all the barriers and walls that we try to build as fences around ourselves and even around the Church.

Pentecost means the Church does not need any protecting, any fences, any barriers. Pentecost calls on us, on the Church, to be like the Holy Spirit, and to go out into the world on behalf those who need an advocate, a counsellor, a friend, a Paraclete.

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

‘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)

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 Church of the Holy Spirit in the grounds of Prague Castle and Prague Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 15: 26-27, 16: 4b-15 (NRSVA):

[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.

4b ‘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.’

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)

Liturgical colour: Red (Pentecost, Year B)

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!


386, Spirit of God, unseen as the wind (CD 23)
310, Spirit of the living God (CD 18)

‘Spirit of God, unseen as the wind’ (Hymn 386) … sunlight on the waters of the Straits of Gibraltar between the coasts of Spain and Morocco (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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.

No comments: