Jesus rose on Easter as the “firstfruits of them that slept.” With the gift of the Holy Spirit, the harvest is completed and the experience of resurrection is extended to all of God’s people. We who were dead in our sins are raised to new life through the Spirit.
In Genesis, God created man from the dust and “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (Genesis 2:7). This life giving connection to God was lost through by sin. As God said, “In the day that you eat thereof you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17). The death caused by sin was the severing of man’s communion with God through the Spirit. We may appear to be alive in the body apart from God, but we are, in fact, dead. We cut off from the source of life and destined for the grave and eternal separation from God.
The drama of redemption that we have rehearsed again since Advent comes to fruition on Pentecost. Pentecost is the moment when the dead receive again the breath of life. The gift of the Spirit restores us to the communion with God that we lost through sin. As Ephesians says, “You he made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins.” (Ephesians 2:1). Through the Spirit, we are have eternal right now and the sure and certain hope of the resurrection of the body on the Last Day.
The whole creation shares with us the hope and promise of resurrection through the Spirit. As Romans says, “The creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now” (Romans 8:21-22). The sacraments, in which physical elements become means of grace, in which physical elements already participate in the new creation through the Spirit, anticipate the time when God will make all things new.
On Pentecost, the outward sign of the gift of the Spirit was the tongues of fire, dividing and resting on the head of each believer. For subsequent Christians, the sign of the gift of the Spirit is the water of baptism. St. Peter describes this succinctly in the conclusion to his sermon on Pentecost: “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Act 2:38).
On Pentecost, the evidence that each believer received the Spirit was that each spoke in various languages of the ancient world. This enabled all the pilgrims who were in Jerusalem for Pentecost to hear about Jesus in their own languages. The ongoing evidence of the Holy Spirit’s presence in us is what we call “the fruits of the Spirit” (cf. Galatians 5:22). People know that the Spirit is active in our lives because they can see the change the Spirit causes in us.
Baptism does not guarantee either the fruits of the Spirit or ultimate salvation. We must also experience what the church refers to as “conversion of the heart.” Conversion of the heart is the encounter with God that makes us aware of our sin and leads us to repentance, confession and the experience grace and forgiveness through Jesus Christ. The sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation are the objective signs of the gift of the Spirit. Conversion of the heart is the subjective condition that enables us to receive the gift effectually. In many baptized Christians, the gift of the Spirit is latent rather than active because they have not yet come to genuine repentance and sincere faith in Jesus, they have not yet experienced conversion of the heart.
Conversion of the heart is a continual process. As we “Walk in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16) we become more aware of our sin, make better confessions, experience more of God’s grace, develop new virtues and manifest new fruits of the Spirit. We lead a life prayer precisely so that we may “daily increase in thy Holy Spirit more and more until [we] come to thine everlasting kingdom” (BCP 297).
Jesus said in the gospel (John 14:15-31). “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him” (John 14:23). When Father and Son make their home in us through the Spirit, we begin to love as God loves. Love is the chief virtue and the preeminent fruit of the Spirit.
Romans says, “The love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Romans 5:5 NKJ). This is why Jesus said, “A new commandment I give unto you. That you love one another as I have loved you. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35). The Holy Spirit both enables and commands us to love in the manner that we have been loved by God.
Love is the unifying language that undoes the confusion of Babel and causes us to speak with one heart and one mind. Love is the unifying language that enables all to hear and see the gospel. Love enables us to forgive and let go of our petty grievances. Love frees us from selfishness, and causes us to serve with a joyful heart where ever God calls us to serve. Love enables us to sacrifice, to give up the temporal for the eternal after the pattern of Jesus.
St. Paul reminds us, in 1 Corinthians 13, that we can do all manner of religious and charitable deeds, but if they are not motivated by love, we gain nothing from them. As Jesus said after recounting all the good religious practices of the church in Ephesus, “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love” (Revelation 2:4).
If our hearts are unconverted or our love has grown cold, we must return to Pentecost and pray, in the words of our sequence hymn: “Come thou Holy Spirit come and from thy celestial home, Shed a ray of light divine…Heal our wounds, our strength renew; On our dryness pour thy dew. Wash the stains of guilt away. Bend the stubborn heart and will; Melt the frozen, warm the chill. Guide the steps the go astray” (Hymnal 109).
Pentecost reminds us that Christian faith is a life giving experience of resurrection. It can never be reduced to mere doctrine or rules. Doctrine describes the experience. Moral rules are the responsibilities and implications of the experience. But the essence of our faith is union with the Father through the Son in the Spirit. The essence of our faith is the experience of love–which comes to us through the gift of the Spirit. Thus, we pray on Pentecost, “Come Holy Ghost, fill the hearts of thy faithful people and kindle in them the fire of thy love.”