When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak.
There were pious Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. When they heard this sound, a crowd gathered. They were mystified because everyone heard them speaking in their native languages. They were surprised and amazed, saying, "Look, aren't all the people who are speaking Galileans, every one of them? How then can each of us hear them speaking in our native language? Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; as well as residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the regions of Libya bordering Cyrene; and visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), Cretans and Arabs — we hear them declaring the mighty works of God in our own languages!" They were all surprised and bewildered. Some asked each other, "What does this mean?" Others jeered at them, saying, "They're full of new wine!"
Peter stood with the other eleven apostles. He raised his voice and declared, “Judeans and everyone living in Jerusalem! Know this! Listen carefully to my words! These people aren't drunk, as you suspect; after all, it's only nine o'clock in the morning! Rather, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your young will see visions. Your elders will dream dreams. Even upon my servants, men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.
I will cause wonders to occur in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and a cloud of smoke.
The sun will be changed into darkness, and the moon will be changed into blood, before the great and spectacular day of the Lord comes.
And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
- Acts 2:1-21, Common English Bible
Giving all glory and honour to God.
Last week, on Ascension Sunday, we stopped reading the book of the Acts of the Apostles after Jesus tells his friends, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses.” This week his promise comes true. The whole group of his followers is in Jerusalem, as the city is filled with pilgrims coming for the Jewish festival of Pentecost. And as they are gathered together in a house, the Holy Spirit arrives in wind and flame, and the speaking of different languages. The Jewish holiday of Pentecost celebrated the new crops, and for early believers in Jesus Pentecost becomes a festival of new spirit, the church’s birthday, as the Spirit gives this little group the power to come out of hiding and go out into the world to tell the Good News of Jesus and live his new life.
This story is in the second chapter of Acts, and the next 26 chapters tell the story of the early church. The real star of this book isn’t Peter, even though he is the lead character in the first 12 chapters, or even Paul, who is the main figure in the rest of the book. The story of the church told in Acts is really the story of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit directs the church throughout the book. Anne Howard said that the story of Pentecost and the early church is not an account of a group of people who received something and then sat around admiring the gift. It’s a story of movement, bold action, beginning in that house in Jerusalem and reaching out across the globe, always moving outwards despite all odds, always inviting and including new people, as those early disciples got busy and went out to change the world as they themselves had been changed by the Spirit.
Well, we talked about the Spirit last week and will talk more next Sunday. This is the second of a three-part series on the Spirit. Today on Pentecost I just want to take a few moments to speak about the Spirit and our Communion together. I want to discuss the Epiclesis, which sounds like a medical procedure. You expect to hear someone say, “I have an epiclesis scheduled for next week.”
But epiclesis is a Greek word meaning invocation, or calling down from on high. I try not to use a lot of Greek in worship, but I also paid for a year and a half of Greek courses in theological college and need to get my money’s worth sometime.
When we go through the Communion prayer later in this morning’s service, the prayer has different parts. There is a call to give thanks, when I say something like “lift up your hearts” and “let us give thanks to the Lord our God.” This is followed by a thanksgiving, and a song of creation when we say or sing something like “Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might.” Today we are using one from West Africa. This is followed by the story of Jesus at his last supper, and his command to remember him in the bread and the cup.
Towards the end of the Communion prayer is the epiclesis. And it isn’t a medical procedure. As I said, epiclesis means calling down from on high. In our Communion it is a prayer for transformation, to invoke the Spirit and to transform us. This goes way back, as the earliest known Communion prayer we have in its entirety is from the third century, and it has an epiclesis which says:
“We ask you to send your Holy Spirit upon the offering of the holy church.
Gather into one all who share these holy mysteries,
Filling them with the Holy Spirit and confirming their faith in the truth.”
In our Communion prayer today, the epiclesis is one we say together:
“Send your Holy Spirit upon us and upon this offering of your church,
That we who eat and drink at Christ’s table may share in his life.
Pour out your Spirit upon the whole earth,
And make it your new creation.”
So the epiclesis calls on the Holy Spirit to come upon us, as on that Pentecost day, and upon our gifts of the bread and the cup, and to transform us who share in the Lord’s Supper to be like Jesus.
The Holy Spirit who moved on the face of the waters when the world was created, the Holy Spirit sent upon the prophets of old, the Holy Spirit Jesus promised and who filled the church at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit by whom we are all baptized into one body, is the same Holy Spirit who unites us in and with the entire body of Christ in our Communion as we break the bread and share the cup together. Our epiclesis, our prayer of transformation, is our prayer that our eating and drinking at the table of Jesus Christ will, through the Spirit, make us one with the risen Christ and with all God’s people, and nourish us so that we won’t just sit around after our meal but will, like those first believers in Jesus, go from here changed by the Spirit to change the world.
And so we cry, come, Holy Spirit. And so the church shouts, come, Holy Spirit. And so the earth pleads, come, Holy Spirit. Enliven this bread, pour us out for each other, transform our minds, ignite your church, nourish the life of the earth. Make us, while many, united. Make us, though broken, whole. Make us, despite death, alive. Amen!