Written by the Rev'd Canon Chris Russell, Archbishop Justin Welby's Adviser for Evangelism & Witness.
We are so saturated with images in our day to day lives it is almost impossible for us to consider being close to someone who we have no idea what they look like.
This can be hard enough when it comes to Jesus. This is why we are helped by films, tv shows and pictures which depict him. We know of course Jesus didn’t look like Jonathan Roumie – who plays Christ in ‘The Chosen’ – but he is a human being acting in the part of the Word made flesh. Jesus had a face and 5 senses, hands and feet, he walked and took up physical space.
But how do we go about conceiving of the Holy Spirit? We have some images, but they are all quite primordial and impersonal – wind, fire, water and oil. The old fashioned language which gave us the term ‘ghost’ helps no-one. So in the lead up to Pentecost, as Thy Kingdom Come encourages us to wait, desire and pray for a personal and corporate renewing in the Spirit, is there anything scripture offers us which is tangible and, well, a bit easier to get hold of.
Probably we will all have favourite passages of the Bible which are those go-to verses to answer such a question. My second favourite is Romans 8. But the story I live inside of is John 20 – which tells what happens the resurrected Jesus comes to his disciples on the day of the resurrection.
There’s the fact that the locked doors don’t stop him being present with them, there is the greeting of peace and the joy at seeing his wounds –… The exchange that helps me make sense of the person and work of the Holy Spirit is…
Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.
Let us notice these things – Jesus has just shown his disciples his wounds. These are the wounds of love which he was sent by the Father to bear for the sake of the world. He now co-opts the disciples into the mission of the Father. This is the most involving, demanding, costly calling. But they are not simply sent – they are given everything they will need. The same Spirit who enabled the life of Jesus, the same Spirit who was his intimate and constant connection to the Father, the same Spirit that enabled him to live, teach, serve, forgive and love those he was sent to – this Spirit is given to them. You see we might not be able to grasp the Spirit, but we can be grasped. We might not be able to get hold of the Spirit, but we can be held. We might not be able to conceive of the Spirit, but the Spirit can conceive us. For the Holy Spirit, this new wine, takes form, and the one whose form the Spirit takes breathes on us. The Spirit will always create in us the pattern of Jesus Christ – listening and speaking, loving and serving, dying and rising.
What does the work of the Spirit do? Simply to enable Jesus followers to live lives similar to his.
So in these days of Pentecost let us wait in pressing expectation and certain hope for the Spirit of the risen Christ to be breathed into us that we might be sent as he was sent.
Truly the prayer ‘Come Holy Spirit’ changes the world.