You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses…to the ends of the earth.
The Invitatory and Psalter
V. O Lord, open thou our lips,
R. And our mouths shall show forth your praise.
V. Glory be to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
R. As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever.
Jubilate Psalm 100 Hymnal 1982 #S43
Be joyful in the Lord, all you lands;
serve the Lord with gladness
and come before his presence with a song.
Know this: The Lord himself is God;
he himself has made us, and we are his;
we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
go into his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and call upon his Name.
For the Lord is good;
his mercy is everlasting;
and his faithfulness endures from age to age.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit:
As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen
25 Yonder is the great and wide sea with its living things too many to number, *
creatures both small and great.
26 There move the ships, and there is that Leviathan, *
which you have made for the sport of it
27 All of them look to you *
to give them their food in due season.
28 You give it to them; they gather it; *
you open your hand, and they are filled with good things.
29 You hide your face, and they are terrified; *
you take away their breath, and they die and return to their dust.
30 You send forth your Spirit, and they are created; *
and so you renew the face of the earth.
31 May the glory of the LORD endure for ever; *
may the LORD rejoice in all his works.
32 He looks at the earth and it trembles; *
he touches the mountains and they smoke.
33 I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; *
I will praise my God while I have my being.
34 May these words of mine please him; *
I will rejoice in the LORD.
35 Let sinners be consumed out of the earth, *
and the wicked be no more.
Bless the LORD, O my soul. Hallelujah!
Glory be to the Father and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; *
as it was in the beginning is now, and will be forever, Amen
The First Lesson: Acts 2:1-21 The Day of Pentecost
1When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
5Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs — in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”
14But 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. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, 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.
18Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;and they shall prophesy.
19And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
20The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
Hymn: Hail thee, Festival Day Venantius Fortunatus Hymnal 1982 #225
Hail thee, festival day! blest day that art hallowed for ever,
day when the Holy Ghost shone in the world with God’s grace.
Lo, in the likeness of fire, on those who await his appearing,
he whom the Lord foretold suddenly, swiftly, descends:
Forth from the Father he comes with sevenfold mystical offering,
pouring on all human so infinite riches of God:
Hark! for in myriad tongues Christ’s own, his chosen apostles,
preach to the ends of the earth Christ and his wonderful works:
Praise to the Spirit of Life, all praise to the fount of our being,
light that dost lighten all, life that in all dost abide:
The Second Lesson: 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13 The Gifts of the Spirit
3No one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.
4Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.
12For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
Hymn: Come, Holy Ghost Veni creator spiritus Hymnal 1982 #503
Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire, and lighten with celestial fire.
Thou the anointing Spirit art, who dost thy sevenfold gifts impart.
Thy blesséd unction from above is comfort, life, and fire of love.
Enable with perpetual light the dullness of our blinded sight.
Anoint and cheer our soiled face with the abundance of thy grace.
Keep far our foes, give peace at home: where thou art guide, no ill can come.
Teach us to know the Father, Son, and thee, of both, to be but One,
that through the ages all along, this may be our endless song:
praise to thy eternal merit, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The Gospel Lesson: John 14:24-26 The Spirit will teach you
24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.
25 “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.
The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
Sermon: Spirit of Fire, Tongues of Flame
The tale is a simple one – as simple as it is profound. Jesus told his people to gather. They gathered. He said that the Spirit would come upon them and teach them. They waited. It did. Then they went forth and changed the world.
He had told them, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you,” as we just heard in many languages, including a couple that he would’ve known (John 14:26). He’d said it before, and they’d heard it before. One imagines that they expected that his peace would come again. Maybe that would be all; it certainly would’ve been enough.
So they gathered and waited. The day was the Feast of Shavuot, the Harvest Festival of the Spring Barley, which comes fifty days after the Passover – hence, in Greek, “Pentecost,” which means fiftieth. While they waited, perhaps beginning to wonder what for, the Spirit came – not as a still, small voice but as the “rush of a violent wind” (Acts 2:2), with tongues of fire appearing over their heads, and one resting on each of them. Soon they heard languages coming from their mouths that they did not know they knew.
Lesson #1: The Spirit’s lessons come fast.
Lesson #2: The Spirit’s lessons come in a fury.
Lesson #3: The Spirit’s lessons come as a surprise.
Jesus did not prepare them for tongues of fire or spirits of flame. He had fifty days to clue them in on what exactly this Spirit he would send would do, and he never got around to mentioning that their mouths would shout forth God’s praise in words they had never known or even imagined. He said they’d receive power, and be his witnesses to all Jerusalem and beyond, but he didn’t quite say how. Repeatedly, he said that the Spirit would come and empower them to speak the truth, whenever they had to and however they had to. Perhaps he hoped they’d put two-and-two together and realize how big this was, and what it all would mean. My sense, though, is that he wanted to build in some reassurance that whatever happened, whatever it was, they’d be grateful for it, able to handle it, and do just fine, even if he couldn’t promise that they’d always be fine, or that everything would go well with them. “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” he had said, and they remembered that he had said, “and do not let them be afraid” (John 14:27).
This, in its own way, is a kind of warning, if behind a veil. What the Spirit brings might lead a heart to be troubled or to be afraid, unless one is warned about it and works to prevent it. “You may feel the pull of trouble,” one might read these words from John, “and you might feel the pressure of fear – resist them.”
The Spirit’s power, as shown forth, brings together two kinds of things we sometimes have reason to fear: what we can do, and what can be done to us.
One had only to turn on the news this week to see examples of each of these. Any week, really, though this was a particularly bad week for those of us who would like to live in this country unafraid – and by “like to,” I mean “should be able to,” without it’s even being a question. The pervasive and insidious racism in this country, particularly as it is concentrated in intentional and structural violence against black lives, bodies, and communities, can make it impossible to do so. It can lead us with what more than one writer has called, “an almost constant state of rage,” as well as grief and fear.
We grieve the deaths, the killings, the murders of so many people who should not have been killed. We fear the powers that kill with impunity, or stay silent in the midst of them. We rage against the dying of the light in so many eyes, and we fear for whose eyes it will die in next. We grieve that it may be dying in our country itself, as certain of our leaders rage against truth itself, fearing what might become of them if the truth came to light and the voices of the people were heard in all they, we have to say. As we rage, as we fear, as we grieve, we must look to hope – God’s hope, as they did at Pentecost, awaiting the Spirit and whatever it would mean, but also awaiting Christ to return as he had left: coming down in power, for all to see, to right the wrongs, heal the wounds, bind up the broken, and redeem the time.
But in the meantime, and certainly at this time, it looks like it is up to us to right the wrongs, heal the wounds, bind up the broken, and redeem the times.
Who was it who said, “Mourn the dead. Fight like hell for the living”?
Indeed. As we rage, as we fear, as we grieve, let us also hope for the power to act as the Spirit acted: fast, with appropriate fury, and with the surprise that comes whenever light shines so brightly that the darkness cannot put it out.
It isn’t easy. But it is necessary.
George Floyd’s murderer – murderers – may be brought to justice. The systems that empowered them to commit this murder must also fall.
Breonna Taylor’s murderer – murderers – may be brought to justice. The systems that empowered them to commit this murder, and to shoot and arrest her boyfriend for defending them both in their home, must also fall.
Ahmaud Arbery’s murderer – murderers – maybe brought to justice. The systems that empowered them to do commit this murder must also fall.
Christian Cooper’s – what do we call her? False accuser? Potential murderer? – appears to have received some just consequences for her actions already. The systems that and enabled her to lie and put an innocent life at risk on purpose and with insidious, calculated intent, must also fall.
Those from whom justice has been denied – Philando Castile, Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Korryn Gaines, Sherida Davis, Freddie Gray, to name only a few – cry out for the systems that enabled their murderers, and the mind-forg’d manacles of thoughts and ideas behind them, to fall. They call on us to make them fall.
100,000 dead of Covid-19 in this country so far, disproportionately people of color and those most marginalized by a system whose flaws and failings come into sharper relief every day. They call on us, they call to us; the cry goes up, “How long?”
Rage and fear are natural to feel – indeed, it would be unnatural not to feel them. It’s important for me to say that, I think, and also to say something more about particularly why it is so for me. You see, part of my becoming a white person in this country involved learning – not on purpose, mind you, and not in a way I’m sure I quite yet understand – to un-feel the rage and fear that naturally arise when seeing racism and other forms of systemic violence – to un-see them, as it were. Part of becoming who I am now, and who I wish to continue to become, has been and is to un-learn the ability, the tendency to un-see. It means allowing, compelling myself to feel what it is natural to feel: rage and fear at injustice and oppression – but not stop there. To stop there would be to dissolve in an acid bath of disempowering despair, or to lash out in riotous rage – understandably, if self-defeatingly. To move through that involves recognizing what is, and how wrong it is – to grieve it that is – to say “This is what is,” but then to say with hope, “This is what should not be – so what must be?” and then to say, also in hope, “We must work to replace what is with what must be.”
Spirits of fire, tongues of flame. In their own way, that’s what the Spirit was leading the disciples to do at Pentecost. Think of what they went through and had to do. First, listen carefully to what you don’t know yet. Then speak the truth out loud as many ways as you know how; here’s some new ones. Prepare that what you have to say might overwhelm you. Keep it up, keep saying it out loud. Keep listening to what others say as well. Make the world as I, your savior, would have it be, and not as those who’ve marred it would compel you to think it has to remain.
That’s the sort of thing we can do because of what can be done to us – work to make racist structures, systems, and ideas – and with them all systems of error and oppression – fall. Many of our forebears in this country and elsewhere did so in their day, often against stiffer winds that ours; so must we do in ours.
That is an important lesson this Pentecost, at least for me. But it is not the only lesson. We would be remiss not to remind ourselves of the diversity of tongues in which the truth was said and heard at that Pentecost. The range, the beauty, and the power of what we are as human beings, in our differences and uniqueness, were all on full display that morning. Yet an even deeper lesson of that Pentecost is found in the precision with which the Spirit gave those tongues of diversity and flame. The multiplicity of tongues spoken by the power of God that day meant that when any disciple spoke aloud the name of Jesus and the power of the risen Christ, each person who had come to Jerusalem for Pentecost, for Shavuot, would hear of it in his or her native language. Whether you were from Parthia or Elam, Mesopotamia, Cappadocia, Libya, Rome, or Arabia, or even just down the road in another part of Judea, you would hear in your own language the words of Jesus’s followers. You would hear in words you could understand words of the Word that was before all worlds, as well as the words from the prophet Joel that now all the people would prophesy, the young see visions, and the old dream dreams. They heard in their own tongues of God’s deeds of power – and heard them by means of a deed of power, the Spirit’s gift of tongues of fire, and a spirit aflame with the power and love of God for a world sorely in need of both.
The people in Jerusalem had no idea how this happened – what, a bunch of Galileans suddenly turned themselves into the translation arm of the United Nations? – but they knew it was real. They listened, and when they tried to un-hear, as the story goes, they heard it all again. The truth, that is: what God had done and keeps doing in the power of Christ to mend lives and heal the world.
Pentecost – Shavuot, we should not forget, is a harvest festival: the spring barley, from which comes not bread alone, but also the summer ale and the winter’s dram. All such festivals entail the presentation of offerings of the fruits of the land so that all may share in them, and the Lord be praised, as the source of all our wealth and strength and of all creation. None may hoard or sell for profit all that he or she has gained or produced; to those who have been given or have earned much, at least some is required that all might share. The original offering than one was to bring consisted of the following: two loaves of leavened bread, made of the finest flour; seven perfect lambs; one young bull; two rams; one male goat for a sin offering; and two male lambs as “a sacrifice of well-being” (Lev.23:15-20). The two lambs at the end there were for the priest, so we eat well tonight here.
What always amazes me about these festival offerings from the books of Moses is the wealth that they simply presume exists – wealth from a thriving pastoral and agricultural society that is at peace enough, and disciplined in the midst of its plenty, to have flour and oil and goats and lambs to spare. Such a peaceable land would have wealth enough to support those who work it is to lead, guide, and support the people in turn. It was, in its ideal form, a land of promise, flowing with milk and honey, not blood, toil, tears, and sweat. Well, maybe sweat; all farming is hot work, even if one uses air-conditioned tractors, and as well all know, if the farmer don’t work, the people don’t eat. But not blood, not tears, and only such toil as earned a rich return. They were a generous and just people, too, those who wrote these of the laws of Leviticus. It is at the end of this chapter on Pentecost, or Shavuot, that comes the command that “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and for the alien: for I am the Lord your God” (Lev. 23:22).
The people who wrote those lines, wrote those laws, I suspect, knew what it was like to live without fear, but also what it was like to live in fear, and in want, or worse. They had reasons of their own to rage, and plenty to grieve. They had been slaves in Egypt, but now were free to prosper in a new land. Thus they had to imagine, before they could create, a land of peace and plenty, a place where the security of each was of concern to all, the humanity of each a blessing for all to cherish and enliven, and the common good, the good of all, was dear to the heart of everyone who breathed. They had to imagine, before they could create, a place where the dignity of every human being was something every human being respected. They had to move through their pain and beyond their losses in order to hope, to imagine, to create, to make new. That, too, is a gift of the Spirit – perhaps its greatest gift.
Spirits of fire and tongues of flame are signs of it as well.
Dropping these gifts into the Pentecost festival was in part tactical: teach the people from far away when they’re near enough to hear, and then take it back home. It was also in part strategic: celebrate the wealth of our diversity and the power of truth and new possibilities when people are already celebrating the wealth they’d made, even while remembering loss. Pentecost could not be the joy that it was were it not for the struggle and anxiety of Passover, the flight from slavery and from armies bent on re-enslavement. Pentecost could not be what it was if not for the hard, but rewarded, work of making a land of promise into a land of plenty. It was, if you think about it, the perfect time for the Spirit to start something new: the people were ready. They had prepared. They had been prepared. Christ had come among them and done what he could, done what he had to. Now it was the Spirit’s turn, so hold on. We’re just getting started.
Please join me now in the renewal of our baptismal vows.
The Renewal of Baptismal Vows
Celebrant Do you reaffirm your renunciation of evil and renew your commitment to Jesus Christ?
People I do.
Celebrant Do you believe in God the Father?
People I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
Celebrant Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?
People I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
Celebrant Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?
People I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.
Celebrant Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?
People I will, with God’s help.
Celebrant Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
People I will, with God’s help.
Celebrant Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
People I will, with God’s help.
Celebrant Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
People I will, with God’s help.
Celebrant Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
People I will, with God’s help.
The Celebrant concludes the Renewal of Vows as follows
May Almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has given us a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, and bestowed upon us the forgiveness of sins, keep us in eternal life by his grace, in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
A Collect for Whitsunday (the Day of Pentecost)
O God, who on this day taught the hearts of your faithful people by sending to them the light of your Holy Spirit: Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things, and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
A Prayer for Birthdays
O God, our times are in your hand: Look with favor, we pray, on your servants as they begin begins another year. Grant that they may grow in wisdom and grace, and strengthen their trust in your goodness all the days of their lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
A Prayer for the Absent
O God, whose fatherly care reacheth to the uttermost parts of the earth: We humbly beseech thee graciously to behold and bless those whom we love, now absent from us. Defend them from all dangers of soul and body; and grant that both they and we, drawing nearer to thee, may be bound together by thy love in the communion of thy Holy Spirit, and in the fellowship of thy saints; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
A Prayer after St. Alphonsus
O Jesus, you are present to us in the blessed sacrament. We love you above all things, and desire to receive you into our souls. Since we cannot at this time share your sacrament, let your spirit dwell within our hearts. Let us welcome you as one already with us, making us one body and one spirit, never to be parted from you. Amen.
Hymn: Come down, O Love divine Bianco de Siena Hymnal 1982 #516
Come down, O Love divine,
seek thou this soul of mine,
and visit it with thine own ardor glowing;
O Comforter, draw near,
within my heart appear,
and kindle it, thy holy flame bestowing.
O let it freely burn,
till earthly passions turn
to dust and ashes in its heat consuming;
and let thy glorious light
shine ever on my sight,
and clothe me round, the while my path illuming.
And so the yearning strong,
with which the soul will long,
shall far outpass the power of human telling;
for none can guess its grace,
till Love create a place
wherein the Holy Spirit makes a dwelling.
We end today with a prayer and a different kind of blessing – in particular, the “The Hawaii Blessing,” a gift to the world from 25 churches in Hawaii. Gail Soulea sent the link to me this week, for which I am most grateful. In this video, available via this link on YouTube: https://youtu.be/BxQ0RnKjrzY, you will hear and see many voices singing in harmony, diversity, wonder, love, and praise. I would encourage you to watch that video now, as I will do once this recording is finished, and let their spirits of fire and tongues of flame bless us all on this Pentecost Sunday. Amen.
About Episcopal Worship and this Pentecost Service
The Day of Pentecost, also known as Whitsunday, is the day on which we remember the Holy Spirit coming upon the disciples gathered in Jerusalem. It is also known as the church’s birthday. On this day, spirits of fire and tongues of flame came upon the disciples gathered, empowering them to speak the truths of Jesus Christ in languages they’d never known, and to people they’d not yet met, thereby beginning the work of the Spirit in the wake of Christ’s Ascension. May this day be a blessing to you.
Thanks be to our gospel readers today, given in order that we heard them: Rev. Wilkins (Greek), Wendy Steward (Arabic and Hebrew), Beth Walton (Russian), Janis Smith (Street-wise), Hilary Laskey (English).
Christian worship is designed to have the congregation gather for prayer, lessons, the Eucharist, and song. In times of contagion and quarantine, the community may not gather or share the Eucharist. We have adapted this service to the conditions of the time, celebrating Morning Prayer in the Presence of the Reserved Sacrament, honoring God with our daily office prayers, thanksgivings, lessons, canticles, and hymns.
Many thanks to all whose voices and efforts went into making this service a joyous celebration of our community, separated though we are by the needs of social distancing. May we continue to walk in Christ’s love and the Spirit’s power united and as one.
This booklet is designed for you to use on your own, in addition to being a guide to worship online. The readings, prayers, and liturgies are taken or adapted from those in The Book of Common Prayer, The Book of Occasional Services, Enriching Our Worship 1, and the hymnals. You will find links to these resources below.
Resources (available for free online)
Book of Common Prayer, www.bcponline.org
Enriching Our Worship 1, https://www.churchpublishing.org/siteassets/pdf/enriching-our-worship-1/enrichingourworship1.pdf
Enriching Our Worship 2,
These resources contain the prayers and worship services used in The Episcopal Church and by Episcopalians in their daily devotions.
The Revised Common Lectionary and Daily Office, https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/
This source shows the readings assigned for use in Sunday worship and for daily office use for each day of the year, with links to online biblical texts.
Hymnal 1982: https://hymnary.org/hymnal/EH1982
Hymnal 1940: https://hymnary.org/hymnal/HPEC1940
The Episcopal Church: www.episcopalchurch.org
Episcopal News Service: www.episcopalnewsservice.org
The Episcopal Diocese of Washington: www.edow.org
St. Mark’s, Fairland: www.stmarks-silverspring.org
A Prayer in Times of Sickness and Contagion
Heavenly Father, giver of life and health, source of all wisdom and peace: Comfort and relieve your servants who suffer from sickness or fear, give your power of healing to those who minister to their needs, and let your grace be with all those who work to protect us from contagion and disease. May we be strengthened against any weakness, sickness, fear, and doubt, and place our confidence in your loving care through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
 Sermon copyright © Christopher Wilkins. All rights reserved. Distribution is permitted so long as authorship is acknowledged.