Almighty God, on this day you opened the way of eternal life to every race and nation by the promised gift of your Holy Spirit: Shed abroad this gift throughout the world by the preaching of the Gospel, that it may reach to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Outward & Upward
Often, we think of the Holy Spirit, His Person and His work, as something intensely personal. The work of the Holy Spirit, we imagine, takes place within the confines of the human heart and is encountered as we take an inward journey. We think: only when we get away from the clamor of the world’s many voices will we hear the still, small whispers of the Holy Spirit who guides us on our way.
It’s not as if this characterization is untrue—to be sure, the Spirit is able to speak into our lives in personal ways. But we should be aware that this is almost a total inversion of the Holy Spirit as we encounter Him on the Day of Pentecost.
The second chapter of Acts provides us with our ‘first impression’ of the Holy Spirit—who He is and how He works. The Spirit comes to a community that has been gathered together (Acts 2:1). Peter and the disciples had not gone off on their own personal vision quests, wanting to be alone in a moment of personal piety. They were together. The Spirit’s actions were also anything but a gentle whisper, to be felt and cherished. We hear a mighty, rushing wind and a gift so raucous and babbling that the lookers-on figured the disciples were drunk (Acts 2:13).
Our collect for the Day of Pentecost reminds us of the purpose of the “promised gift” of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit’s movement as we see it in Acts 2 is outward and upward.
Outward, because it is a gift that we could never selfishly cling to as a point of personal pride. In Acts 2, the gift of language does little for the disciples personally—indeed, at first, it makes them seem downright silly. The gift is for the sake of others, for “every race and nation.”
The collect is saturated in this language: “opened”, “abroad”, “throughout the world”, “reach to the ends of the earth.” We do not pray for a Holy Spirit that is a genie we can summon for ourselves. The Spirit comes in so that the Gospel might go out.
The outward movement of the Holy Spirit always also moves people upward, raising up those whose eyes are downcast and giving a glimpse of the glory of God. John records Jesus’ teaching about the Holy Spirit in John 16, that the Spirit will “will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” In other words, the Spirit will make irrefutably known to all the state of the universe: our sin, God’s goodness, and the decision set before us in the light of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
This upward movement can be traced in Peter’s sermon, which sets the truth plainly before his hearers and begs the unavoidable question: “what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). The Spirit goes out, so that all might be lifted up.
This is our prayer on Pentecost. Not for a gentle word of comfort that we can lock away safely in our souls, but for an outward and upward movement, a rushing wind that stirs even the farthest corners of the world. We pray for God to send His Holy Spirit to lend His miraculous power to the task set for us by our Lord: to preach the Gospel to all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit—the gift the Church received on this day.
Kolby Kerr is an Anglican priest who serves at Restoration Anglican Church in Richardson, Texas. He’s also the Assistant Director (and regular blog contributor) at LeaderWorks, a nonprofit organization that provides leadership services to help church leaders do their work. Before joining LeaderWorks, Kolby taught high school English for ten years. He and his wife Emily live in Richardson with their two sons, Beckett and Samuel.