Thursday 27th May Mass 10.00am
Sunday 30th May Parish Mass 9.30am
Special PCC meeting with the Archdeacon
When will “Freedom Day” arrive? The headlines of some of the newspapers show that many people are eagerly awaiting June 21st as a day when our country can proclaim freedom once again. This freedom, of course, would be from all the rules that have been imposed to keep the coronavirus under some kind of control. There are now some reasons to doubt that there will be any dramatic change by that date. All the same, there are still a great many people who would see the end of face coverings and social distancing as a freedom that cannot come soon enough.
Today the Church celebrates a freedom that is of a different kind. We hear in the Acts of the Apostles about the way in which the apostles, who had previously been hiding away from the world, were once again free to proclaim with confidence the love of Christ. No longer confined within the same four walls, they went everywhere, proclaiming the good news that Christ is risen. What’s more, they even broke down the language barriers that prevented people from understanding the message. In fact, it was not they who were breaking down those walls, but it was the work of the Holy Spirit - the fire of God’s love.
When they were set free by the gift of the Holy Spirit, these people who proclaimed and received the message, would no longer be bound by the constraints of an old law. The Law had been brought to its fulfilment through Jesus and now everyone who was baptised in his name would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. They would live by the law of God’s love. St Augustine said that it is love alone that separates the children of God from the children of the devil. He even went as far as to say: “Love and do as you will.” When we are born of the Spirit, we are born to love and the power to love is the gift of the Spirit.
For Christians, freedom also means that we are released from the power that sin and death hold over us. St Paul names two sets of contrasting types of behaviour. He lists such things as factions, quarrels and envy alongside other tendencies that arise from a lack of self-control. When we put our own selves at the centre of everything and when we are only concerned with indulging our own desires, then these are the kinds of behaviour that bubble up to the surface. What people witness is something deeply unattractive. The other list is of those attributes that Paul calls “the fruit of the Spirit”, the first of which are: love, joy and peace. These are the things that flow naturally from a life of faith and which arise from the gift of the Holy Spirit. What a huge difference there is between these two ways of living!
So, true freedom is not about self-indulgence. The Holy Spirit witnesses to the presence of Jesus himself. What we see in Jesus is not the glorification of his human self, but the glory of God. In the gospel passage today, Jesus is promising to send the Spirit of truth to lead us into complete truth. At an earlier stage in St John’s gospel, in Chapter 8, verse 32, Jesus said: “The truth will set you free.” If it is true freedom that we long for, then let us pray this Pentecost that the anointing Spirit may be poured out on us once more.
There is only so much we can accomplish in human strength and we are limited by our own shortcomings. That fruit of the Spirit of which St Paul spoke can only be brought about by the gift we celebrate at Pentecost – the fire of love that descended upon the first apostles. This is what makes all the difference, perfecting within us those things we could otherwise never achieve. A life of genuine faith will yield fruit, but we need to be open to what God is freely offering. People can see the difference this makes to the lives of those who believe. As the first apostles found, the barriers between people are removed and you don’t even have to share the same language, because the Holy Spirit speaks the universal language of God’s love.
The Swiss theologian, Hans Urs von Balthasar, shared the insight that we don’t have to conform to a particular culture to be a Christian. We only have to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit through our baptism and live in the freedom of that gift. Then others too will recognise and want to receive this gift for themselves. As von Balthasar says: “The fruits of the Spirit are tasty in anyone’s mouth”.
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful people and kindle in them the fire of your love.