Sunday of Pentecost, June 23, 2013
Rev. Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick
A recording of this sermon is available via Ancient Faith Radio.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
On this great day of Pentecost, the fiftieth day following the Lord’s resurrection from the dead, we celebrate and experience once again the descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of fiery tongues upon the Apostles and disciples of Christ. The Lord was born, He grew, He was baptized, He preached, He healed, He suffered, He died, He was buried, He rose from the dead, He ascended into Heaven and sat down at the right hand of the Father, and now He sends to us from on high the Comforter, the great and all-holy Spirit of God, the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, the One Who proceeds eternally from the Father.
Just as much as the Father is God and the Son is God, the Holy Spirit, too, is God. He is of one essence with the Father and the Son. He is the Giver of Life. He is the Heavenly King. He is the inspiration of the prophets. He is the One Who led the Apostles into all truth on that day of Pentecost. He is the One sent down upon the bread and the wine to make them into the Body and Blood of Christ. And He is the One Who overshadowed the Virgin Mary, and Jesus Christ was incarnate of Him and of her, and He became man.
Of all these many things we have seen and heard and known of the Holy Spirit, it is this last action that I would like us to focus on especially today, that Christ was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, as attested to in our Creed and as witnessed in the Holy Scriptures. And I also would like us to understand what that has to do with this beautiful day of Pentecost, the day of the mighty wind and of the holy fire.
When we first encounter the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures, it is in the book of Genesis, and He is hovering over the face of the waters, the waters of the formless, void Earth that has not yet been shaped by the Son of God to become this planet of life we now know. We say of course that it was the Son and Word of God by Whom and through Whom and for Whom the creation was made, but the Holy Spirit is there at the beginning, and of course the Father, is as well. And when the Son of God creates man, and man is made according to the image, according to Christ Who is the image of the Father, the breath of life is breathed into man to make him a living soul. That breath, that wind that was breathed into Adam should call to mind the Holy Spirit, for in many ancient languages, including both the Greek and the Hebrew of the Scriptures, wind, breath and spirit are all one word.
And so when many ages after the creation the Holy Spirit is given to the Apostles by Christ, He breathes on them when He says “Receive the Holy Spirit.” And when the day of Pentecost came, the Spirit’s coming was announced with a mighty rushing wind. This is He, the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Truth, the Lord and Giver of Life. And it is He who overshadows the Virgin, and she conceives.
At that moment, mankind is re-created, for the true Firstborn over all creation has become incarnate. The incarnation happens because of the work of the Holy Spirit and the cooperation of the Virgin. If God spoke through man when the Holy Spirit filled the prophets, we now see that God becomes man when the Holy Spirit fills the Virgin.
But what does this have to do with Pentecost? Isn’t the Incarnation the subject of the Annunciation, when the Lord was conceived? Or is it perhaps not the subject of the Lord’s Nativity, the great feast of Christmas? How does the Incarnation have anything to do with Pentecost? Did not the Lord’s incarnate body depart from us ten days ago at the Ascension, and now the Holy Spirit is here in His stead?
If that is what you think the Spirit is here to do, to take Christ’s place, then you misunderstand this feast and indeed, you may misunderstand what Christianity is all about. The Spirit is here for the same reason He was at the creation, for the same reason that He filled the prophets, for the same reason He overshadowed the Virgin—He is here to bring us the presence of Christ. He is here to bring to us the One Who is Emmanuel—God with us.
When the Holy Spirit descends at Pentecost, the Church as we now know it comes into being (though it is actually eternal, because Christ is a member). A ragtag group of fishermen and other disciples become the Body of Christ. And it is no mere turn of phrase that we use here—“Body of Christ.” We say “Body of Christ” because we should think of His body. We should think of His incarnation. We should think of Him as the Head of the Church, while we are His Body. The Holy Spirit comes for no other reason than to extend the Incarnation.
You see, the presence of Christ is not limited only to His physical body as it walked this Earth and now sits on the Father’s Throne. Christ’s incarnation extended into those Apostles and the other disciples when the day of Pentecost came and the Holy Spirit came upon them. Christ’s incarnation is extended when those 3000 souls are baptized into Christ on that day. Christ’s incarnation is extended into the Body and Blood that will come forth from this holy altar today. Christ’s incarnation is extended in every one of the sacraments. Christ’s incarnation is extended directly into you and into me, because we have put on Christ in baptism and because we eat and drink His flesh and blood.
We are called “Christians,” brothers and sisters, because we are what that word means: “little Christs.” We are the extension of His incarnation because the Holy Spirit has come upon us in our baptism and chrismation and in our life of receiving all the sacraments.
Christ has not left us! He did not go away so that the Spirit could be here “instead” of Him. He sent us the Holy Spirit precisely so that He might become everywhere, so that He might become fullness of Him Who fills all things. Christ in all, and all in Christ. To the extent that we are in Christ, we become Christ by the power of Pentecost, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Christ has not left us! When we receive all the holy mysteries even from the unworthy vessels that are our bishops, priests and deacons, we receive them not from those unworthy men, but from Christ, for in their ordination they have become Christ, and it is by the Holy Spirit that this has happened. The incarnation has extended into them, and through them, by the Spirit, the incarnation extends into us. By the energy and power and operation of the Holy Spirit, we become by grace what Christ Himself is by nature.
Christ has not left us! This is why everything we do here in this holy place matters, why what you do when you leave this place matters, why every moment of every day has the possibility for conveying the awesome presence, power and glory of God into every place. The Holy Spirit has come, and He is extending Christ into us, and we by the Spirit extend Christ into this world.
Christ has not left us! This is the wind and fire of the Spirit, and He is bringing Christ into us with power and with glory. Just imagine for a moment if we truly knew what it means that we are by grace becoming what Christ is by nature—the very presence of God on Earth. We do not become the one and only God—only the Father, Son and Spirit are God. But we may grow to the fullness of the stature of Christ, partakers of the divine nature.
What a wonderful and beautiful and comforting and encouraging Gospel the Holy Spirit preaches to us: Christ has not left us! He gives Christ to us, for Christ sent the Spirit to us for precisely that reason. Though we are sinners, though we are unworthy and have blasphemed God, though we so often ignore Him and put Him last, we who are the Body of Christ have become the extension of the Incarnation of Christ. We can dare to say with the saints that, because of the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the Church is nothing less than the whole Christ—Head and Body.
To Him therefore be all glory, honor and worship, with His Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.