Witnesses give evidence in legal proceedings, they testify to the truth (or falsehood), of a situation. They provide evidence which can be believed. In the Gospel today Jesus promised his disciples that He will send,
‘the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.’ (Jn 15:26-27)
Both the Apostles and the Holy Spirit bear witness to who God is, and what God does. Doing so brings the disciples into direct conflict with Jewish and Roman authorities. Christianity was, for nearly the first three hundred years of its existence, an illegal religion, whose adherents could be punished with execution. Bearing witness to Jesus was a costly process, both then and now. The Apostles bear witness to Christ, who taught them, who rose from the dead, and who promised to send His Spirit upon them on this day. It is through their bearing witness to Christ that the Christian faith spread. Filled with the Holy Spirit, the Apostles bore witness to God’s activity in the world.
Jesus also promises His disciples that,
‘When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.’ (Jn 16:13-15)
Thus, we see that the Holy Spirit has a role to play in guiding the Church in truth, preserving it from error, so that Christians may continue to love God, and proclaim the truth which comes to us from the Apostles. We know that Jesus speaks the truth, that his promises can be trusted, that he pours His Holy Spirit upon His followers on the day of Pentecost, and continues so to do until He will come in glory as our Saviour and our Judge. Jesus wants us to tell people all about Him: about how he came to show the world love, and about how we can live filled with that love.
This is why St Paul can write to the Church in Galatia as a community that has experienced the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Paul describes what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit as follows:
‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.’ (Gal 5:22-23)
Paul is describing how we are all supposed to live as Christians. It is an ideal, which we often fail to live up to. But nonetheless, it shows us how God wants us to live. Here is a glimpse of life in all its fulness: life in union with God and each other. This is perfect communion, something to strive for, even if we may struggle to attain it. This is how we can live when we let God be in control, and when our human will is perfectly aligned with God’s will for us.
Before his Ascension, Christ tells His disciples to wait in Jerusalem so that they may be baptized in the Holy Spirit. The disciples have again gathered in the Upper Room, with the Blessed Virgin Mary. This is the same place where Christ instituted the Eucharist, and washed his disciples’ feet. They have met here because Jesus told them to be together and to pray, for ‘you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses … to the end of the earth’ (Acts 1:8). An amazing event then takes place. Everyone present is filled with the Holy Spirit. Tongues of fire rest upon them, and they speak in a variety of languages. Afterwards when they go out to preach, people from all over the world, who have come to Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost, hear the mighty works of Godin their own language. They hear and understand the proclamation of who Jesus is, and what he has done.
Chapter 11 of the Book of Genesis tells the story about people trying to build a tower to reach heaven, the Tower of Babel. God punishes them, by making their speech unintelligible and by scattering them. Now, at Pentecost, instead of division, we see unity. All the peoples of the world can hear and understand the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ. They can learn about the promised Messiah, the Son of God, who died for our sins, rose on the third day, ascended into heaven. He has sent His Holy Spirit so that where there was sin, disobedience, and confusion, there is now obedience to the will of God, unity and understanding. Something new and wonderful is happening.
The outpouring of the Holy Spirit on this day is the manifestation of God’s love, active in the world. Through it humanity can be united, and come to know the fullness of God as Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Only in the Spirit can we enter fully into the divine life of love, and live out this love in the world. In the power of this love we can begin to understand the mystery of Our Lord’s Incarnation, His Life, Death, and Resurrection, and we can let these mysteries shape our lives as Christians.
God will make His home with us in His word, Holy Scripture and the sacraments of His Church – outward signs of the inward grace which He lavishes on us in the power of His Spirit. That is why we are here today: to be fed with the Body and Blood of Christ, to stand by the Cross so that we may be washed in the blood and water which flows from his side. In this we see God’s love for us, and we are strengthened to live the life of the Spirit. The gift of the Holy Spirit helps us to remain close to the God who loves us and saves us. We can be taught by His Spirit to remain in the faith which comes to us from the Apostles who first received the Spirit on this day two thousand years ago. Let us then live strengthened by Spirit, nourished by word and sacrament, in holiness and joy. Let us, like the Apostles, proclaim the truth and love of God to all peoples, so that the world may believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. To whom be ascribed, as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen.