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Renewal and witness at the heart of Pentecost

Rev Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches. Photo courtesy of oikoumene.org
Power from the Holy Spirit, drawing on “the uncreated energy of God” and revealing the Word of God in Jesus Christ, is the divine blessing for which Christians give thanks on the Sunday of Pentecost.

The eight presidents of the World Council of Churches, in their annual Pentecost message, write that this holy day “offers a new opportunity to each church community and to each of us” to celebrate “the advent and gift of the Holy Spirit, to renew our trust in the Spirit’s power.” They invite us to pray for grace to become witnesses to Christ’s cross and resurrection as well as “to justice, peace and hope” in the world.

In 2011, Pentecost falls on Sunday 12 June. The day occurs fifty days after Easter and marks the coming of the Holy Spirit to empower the church. The biblical description of the event appears in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles.

Message of the WCC presidents at Pentecost 2011

You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you. (Acts 1:8)

The promise of the resurrected Christ before his ascension was actualized on the day of Pentecost in two types of power: the sound “as of a rushing mighty wind” and “tongues as of fire” (Acts 2:2-3). The advent of the Holy Spirit surpasses all possible description. For this reason Luke the evangelist uses the word “as”.

The powerful wind completely renews the entire atmosphere; it creates a new climate, providing a life-giving environment of breath and energy. “This energy filled the whole house where they were sitting.” The disciples were flooded, immersed, “baptized” in this divine energy, as the Lord had previously announced: “before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:5).

The other type of power is symbolized by “tongues as of fire”. It is a manifestation of the uncreated energy of God. The fire burns, heats, enlightens. The Holy Spirit acts within the world “as” fire, burning whatever is dangerous or not useful – warming, comforting, strengthening. The Holy Spirit will forever remain a source of enlightenment, revealing the truth concerning the mystery of the Holy Trinity and of human existence.

The Holy Spirit comes in an hour when “they were all together in one place” (Acts 2:1), in a celebration of thanksgiving – “the Pentecost”. It comes at a gathering of the faithful – “among the brethren” of “about a hundred and twenty” (cf. Acts 1:15), in order to transform the gathering into the Church of the Triune God. The “rushing wind” does not originate from some earthly direction but “from heaven”, from the “Father in heaven”. The fiery presence is split into tongues “and one sat upon each of them”. In this way the direct relationship between the Spirit and the Word of God (the Logos) is revealed, along with the personal nature of the divine gifts. The Spirit will reveal Christ as Lord and Saviour (cf. I Cor. 12:3) to human beings and will bring him, along with his grace, into the human heart. The Holy Spirit continues the saving work of Christ, within time and space, radiating the divine energy; in ways, often incomprehensible to the human mind. “The wind (pneuma) blows where it wills” (John 3:8).

The power, which the disciples received on Pentecost with the advent of the Holy Spirit, does not concern their spiritual progress and personal growth only. It is not an individualistic enlightenment, a fortunate state of ecstasy for them to enjoy on their own. It is offered for the transmission of the gospel of salvation to all of the inhabited world, the oikoumene, to continue the work of the transformation of the world, the work which Christ began: “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The disciples, who until then had been afraid, are turned into courageous apostles, the ones who are sent to continue the ministry of Christ in the world. And the Church becomes for all time “apostolic”.

The steadfast desire of each of the faithful is to become a temple of the Holy Spirit, for the personality of each one to be perfected with the maturity of the fruits of the Spirit within them (Gal. 5:22), so that each may become a bearer of the Spirit of love, truth, holiness and reconciliation within their surroundings, to those both near and far, and to contribute to a constant renewal of humanity.

Every celebration of Pentecost offers a new opportunity to each church community and to each of us, to live eucharistically and doxologically the advent and gift of the Holy Spirit, to renew our trust in the Spirit’s power and to implore with all of the intensity of our soul:

All-Holy Spirit, “come and dwell in us and cleanse us from every stain”:
Strengthen our courage and determination.
Renew and impart new breath and power to the Church.
And give us the power to become, in today’s suffering world,
“martyrs” of the cross and the Resurrection, witnesses to justice,
peace and hope.

Archbishop Dr Anastasios of Tirana and All Albania, Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania
Mr John Taroanui Doom, Maohi Protestant Church (French Polynesia)
Rev Dr Simon Dossou, Methodist Church in Benin
Rev Dr Soritua Nababan, Protestant Christian Batak Church (Indonesia)
Rev Dr Ofelia Ortega, Presbyterian-Reformed Church in Cuba
Patriarch Abune Paulos, Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church
Rev Dr Bernice Powell Jackson, United Church of Christ (USA)
Dame Dr Mary Tanner, Church of England
The World Council of Churches promotes Christian unity in faith, witness and service for a just and peaceful world. An ecumenical fellowship of churches founded in 1948, today the WCC brings together 349 Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican and other churches representing more than 560 million Christians in over 110 countries, and works cooperatively with the Roman Catholic Church. The WCC general secretary is Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, from the [Lutheran] Church of Norway. Headquarters: Geneva, Switzerland.

Photo : Rev Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches. Photo courtesy of oikoumene.org