The Flames and Breathe of Divine Love - Acts 2:1-11
A few years ago, I came across story of a couple who had fallen in love and had ended up being been married for decades despite the fact that they couldn’t speak each other’s languages. It struck me as a remarkable story that illustrates the power of love to transcend barriers. Searching on the internet, I couldn’t find that particular story, but came across a number of other similar stories.
I found this story of a person called Charly who refers to the marriage of her own parents. She says that her Mom was Romanian, and her Dad was English and neither spoke each other's language for the first two years of their relationship. She describes how they got round it by drawing things, using sign language, and speaking French - a language neither of them spoke fluently. She says that humour between her parents was conveyed with silly drawings and physical humour and concludes that whatever they did, it worked, because they remained married for 28 years, until they died.
There is a similar historical story of the marriage between Eleanor, Duchess of Aquitaine and King Henry II of England during the 12th century. Eleanor spoke the Occitan language, while Henry and the English court predominantly spoke English and French. And yet despite this Eleanor and Henry developed a deep understanding and respect for each other. They communicated through interpreters and relied on non-verbal cues, expressions, and gestures to convey their thoughts and emotions. They shared a strong bond and collaborated closely on matters of state, as Eleanor played a significant role in the governance of Henry's vast empire.
It seems that the language of love powerful and has the ability to transcend barriers between people.
Today is Pentecost Sunday, and it is traditional on Pentecost Sunday to reflect on the story of Acts 2:1-11 which contains some wonderful and rich imagery for us to reflect on as people of faith.
The first thing we see is the power of waiting. In Acts chapter 1 we find the disciples joining in prayer with Mary, the Mother of Jesus together with several other women, following the instructions of the Risen Christ that they should wait in Jerusalem. As I said in a brief online reflection last week, waiting is not always an easy time. Waiting requires patience. It is challenging to wait. Waiting is a time of uncertainty and a period of longing. But there is also power in waiting as it invites us to nurture our faith in a greater wisdom and to cultivate a sense of inner peace. Waiting invites us to embrace the unknown, and to trust in the unfolding of life’s wisdom.
In this period of waiting we also see the disciples with Mary and the other unnamed women, cultivating a sense of community and belonging. They gather together in unity and solidarity, finding solace and strength in a shared experience of devotion to prayer. Acts chapter 1 and 2 remind us that in periods of uncertainty and waiting we can all benefit from the gift of belonging and community.
And so at the beginning of the story of Acts 2:1-11, we find the close circle of followers of Jesus gathered together in one place. Their waiting and the solace they have found in community bears fruit as we read that suddenly their came from heaven the sound like a mighty wind filling the whole house where they were sitting. We read of what appeared to be tongues of fire separating and resting up each one of them, and then we read that filled with the Holy Spirit, they began to speak in other languages, and that as a result the crowds of people who had gathered in Jerusalem from all over the then known world were able to hear of the wonders of God’s goodness and love in their own languages.
There is wonderful and rich symbolism in this passage.
Firstly we have the rich symbolism of the sound of a mighty wind filling the whole house in which they were sitting.
The word in the passage that is translated as wind is from the Greek word pneuma. It is the same word we encounter in English when we speak for example of a pneumatic drill, in other words, a drill that is powered by air or ‘wind’.
But the word pneuma in Greek can also be translated as Breathe and as Spirit. And so as we read of the sound of a rushing wind it invites the reader to have a sense of the movement of the power of God’s Spirit at work in the hearts and lives of those gathered together in prayer. It also might speak of the breathe of God’s love, breathing over them and into them, breathing new life and energy into their mission.
Pneuma reminds us that God's transforming love is like a gentle breath, comforting and invigorating. Just as a breath can revive and revitalize, God's love breathes life into our weary souls, awakening us to new possibilities and empowering us to live as agents of positive change. It is through the pneuma, the divine breath, that we are able to embody the transforming love of God in our lives.
The second imagery and symbolism we encounter in the passage in that of a flame that separates and comes to rest of the heads of each of those gathered there together, a metaphor and an image of the fire of Divine Love – a love that transcends all boundaries and barriers. Just as fire spreads and illuminates, so does divine love reaches every corner of our being, filling us with warmth, light, and a sense of connectedness. The tongues of fire on the heads of the disciples symbolises hearts that have been ignited with warmth and love and a new sense of purpose and minds that have become illuminated with a new depth of insight and wisdom that is fuelled by the love.
The combined imagery of the rushing wind and the flames of fire remind us that divine love is not a passive force but an active, transforming energy. It ignites our hearts, awakening us to compassion and empathy. It compels us to reach out to others, to extend a helping hand, and to foster understanding and reconciliation.
And this takes us to the very powerful imagery of the disciples being empowered to speak in other languages.
Acts 2:4 states, "And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance." And a few verses later, we read of how those who had gathered in Jerusalem from all around the then known world, are amazed to hear the wonders of God’s goodness and love being spoken in their own languages.
It suggests that as the wind or the breathe of God’s love blows over us and within us, and as the fire of God’s love is ignited within our hearts and minds so God’s language of love enables us to reach out towards others bridging the gaps of language, culture, and experience, enabling us to understand and be understood, fostering empathy, compassion, and deep connection.
It is a reminder that sin, hatred, evil brings separation and division. But love unites, heals, crosses barriers and brings people together.
On this Pentecost Sunday, may the wind or breathe of God’s love blow over us and within us. And may the fire of God’s love and wisdom be ignited within our hearts and within our minds that we too may speak God’s language of love which transcends all boundaries and barriers, filling us with warmth, light, and a deeper sense of connectedness even with those who might seem different from ourselves. Amen.
Waiting and Belonging: A Reflection on Acts 1:12-14
Acts 1:12-14 portrays a scene of waiting and unity within the early Christian community. After the ascension of Jesus, the disciples return to Jerusalem and devote themselves to prayer. In this reflection, we will explore the themes of waiting and belonging as depicted in these verses and contemplate their significance for us today.
The Power of Waiting: According to the unfolding story, Acts 1:12-14 highlights the period of waiting that the disciples experienced between the ascension of Jesus and the arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Waiting can be a challenging and uncertain time, filled with anticipation and longing. As people of faith, we recognize the value of waiting as a spiritual practice. It is during these moments of patience and reflection that we can deepen our understanding, nurture our faith, and cultivate a sense of inner peace. Waiting invites us to embrace the unknown and trust in the unfolding of life's mysteries.
The Challenge of Waiting: Waiting can be a difficult and demanding process. In Acts 1:12-14, we witness the disciples enduring a period of uncertainty and longing. Similarly, in our own lives, we encounter seasons of waiting—waiting for answers, waiting for healing, waiting for justice. Waiting challenges us to practice patience and resilience. It invites us to trust in the timing of life and to find meaning in the waiting itself. In these moments, we can draw strength from the example of the disciples and the knowledge that we are not alone in our waiting.
Community and Belonging: In Acts 1:12-14, we see the disciples coming together in unity and solidarity. They find solace and strength in their shared experience and devotion to prayer. As people of faith, we affirm the importance of community and belonging. We understand that we are not solitary individuals but interconnected beings, reliant on one another for support, growth, and spiritual nourishment. In our congregations and communities, we strive to create spaces of inclusivity, where all can find a sense of belonging and acceptance, regardless of their backgrounds or beliefs.
Prayer as a Source of Strength: Prayer is a central element in Acts 1:12-14, serving as a means for the disciples to connect with the divine and seek guidance. Christians of different varieties approach prayer in diverse ways, recognizing its potential as a personal and communal practice. Whether through meditation, reflection, or shared rituals, prayer can offer solace, clarity, and inspiration. It provides us with a space to express gratitude, share our hopes and fears, and seek guidance as we navigate life's challenges. Prayer serves as a source of strength, grounding us in our spiritual journey and fostering a sense of connection with the sacred.
And so, Acts 1:12-14 offers a profound reflection on waiting, belonging, and the power of prayer within the early Christian community. As people of faith, we resonate with these themes, recognizing the value of waiting, the importance of community, and the transformative potential of prayer. May we find inspiration in the disciples' example as we navigate our own seasons of waiting, cultivate spaces of belonging, and nurture our spiritual lives through prayer. In doing so, may we discover a deeper sense of connection, purpose, and peace. Amen.
Communion Sunday Reflection -
As I was preparing for today’s Communion Service I looked up some quotes on the theme of bread as well as eating meals. I found these three wonderful quotes that are particularly interesting when we contemplate upon them in light of our service of Holy Communion.
The first is by the English poet Robert Browning who wrote: “If thou tastest a crust of bread, thou tastest all the stars and all the heavens”. This is very similar to a quote by the late Vietnamese Zen teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, who used to say “This bread in your hand, is the body of the cosmos” If you eat it mindfully, you will get in touch with the soil, the sunshine and the rain.
And secondly an anonymous quote:
“The family that eats together stays together”. I wonder what that could mean in the context of the church family gathered at the table of Christ sharing Communion together. “The family that eats together stays together”.
And then lastly a quote from Barbara Colorose
“There is something profoundly satisfying about sharing a meal. Eating together, breaking bread together is one of the oldest and most fundamentally unifying of human experiences.”
Today, instead of a sermon, I would like to read an extract from Khalil Gibran’s book called Jesus the Son of Man. The whole book is a profound meditation on Jesus the Man… Jesus the Human Being. In it he reveals a depth of insight into Jesus, the Human One, as well as the spiritual depths of Jesus heart and life, that has come from many many years of creative and imaginative reflection and meditation on the 4 Gospels.
This extract is written from the perspective of SIMON, WHO WAS CALLED PETER, when He and His Brother were first Called by Jesus. At the heart of this reflection, we see Jesus in the family home of Peter, sharing a meal with Peter and his family. And as we listen to it, I invite all of us to listen to it, in light of the fact that this morning, we gather at the table of Christ to share a meal with him. The extract from Khalil Gibran reads as follows:
I was on the shore of the Lake of Galilee when I first beheld Jesus my Lord and my Master.
My brother Andrew was with me and we were casting out net into the waters.
The waves were rough and high and we caught but few fish. And our hearts were heavy.
Suddenly Jesus stood near us, as if He had taken form that very moment, for we had not seen Him approaching.
He called us by our names, and He said, “If you will follow me I will lead you to an inlet where the fishes are swarming.”
And as I looked at His face the net fell from my hands, for a flame kindled within me and I recognized Him.
And my brother Andrew spoke and said, “We know all the inlets upon these shores, and we know also that on a windy day like this the fish seek a depth beyond our nets.”
And Jesus answered, “Follow me to the shores of a greater sea. I shall make you fishers of men. And your net shall never be empty.”
And we abandoned our boat and our net and followed Him.
I myself was drawn by a power, viewless, that walked beside His person.
I walked near Him, breathless and full of wonder, and my brother Andrew was behind us, bewildered and amazed.
And as we walked on the sand I made bold and said unto Him, “Sir, I and my brother will follow your footsteps, and where you go we too will go. But if it please you to come to our house this night, we shall be graced by your visit. Our house is not large and our ceiling not high, and you will sit at but a frugal meal. Yet if you will abide in our hovel it will be to us a palace. And would you break bread with us, we in your presence were to be envied by the princes of the land.”
And He said, “Yea, I will be your guest this night.”
And I rejoiced in my heart. And we walked behind Him in silence until we reached our house.
And as we stood at the threshold Jesus said, “Peace be to this house, and to those who dwell in it.”
Then He entered and we followed Him.
My wife and my wife’s mother and my daughter stood before Him and they worshipped Him; then they knelt before Him and kissed the hem of His sleeve.
They were astonished that He, the chosen and the well beloved, had come to be our guest; for they had already seen Him by the River Jordan when John the Baptist had proclaimed Him before the people.
And straightway my wife and my wife’s mother began to prepare the supper.
My brother Andrew was a shy man, but his faith in Jesus was deeper than my faith.
And my daughter, who was then but twelve year old, stood by Him and held His garment as if she were in fear He would leave us and go out again into the night. She clung to Him like a lost sheep that has found its shepherd.
Then we sat at the board, and He broke the bread and poured the wine; and He turned to us saying, “My friends, grace me now in sharing this food with me, even as the Father has graced us in giving it unto us.”
These words He said (before) ere He touched a morsel, for He wished to follow an ancient custom that the honoured guest becomes the host.
And as we sat with Him around the board we felt as if we were sitting at the feast of the great King.
My daughter Petronelah, who was young and unknowing, gazed at His face and followed the movements of His hands. And I saw a veil of tears in her eyes.
When He left the board we followed Him and sat about Him in the vine-arbour.
And He spoke to us and we listened, and our hearts fluttered within us like birds.
He spoke of the second birth of man, and of the opening of the gates of the heavens; and of angels descending and bringing peace and good cheer to all men, and of angels ascending to the throne bearing the longings of men to the Lord God.
Then He looked into my eyes and gazed into the depths of my heart. And He said, “I have chosen you and your brother, and you must needs come with me. You have laboured and you have been heavy-laden. Now I shall give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn of me, for in my heart is peace, and your soul shall find abundance and a home-coming.”
When He spoke thus I and my brother stood up before Him, and I said to Him, “Master, we will follow you to the ends of the earth. And if our burden were as heavy as the mountain we would bear it with you in gladness. And should we fall by the wayside we shall know that we have fallen on the way to heaven, and we shall be satisfied.”
And my brother Andrew spoke and said, “Master, we would be threads between your hands and your loom. Weave us into the cloth if you will, for we would be in the raiment of the Most High.”
And my wife raised her face, and the tears were upon her cheeks and she spoke with joy, and she said, “Blessed are you who come in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the womb that carried you, and the breast that gave you milk.”
And my daughter, who was but twelve years old, sat at His feet and she nestled close to Him.
And the mother of my wife, who sat at the threshold, said no word. She only wept in silence and her shawl was wet with her tears.
Then Jesus walked over to her and He raised her face to His face and He said to her, “You are the mother of all these. You weep for joy, and I will keep your tears in my memory.”
And now the old moon rose above the horizon. And Jesus gazed upon it for a moment, and then He turned to us and said, “It is late. Seek your beds, and may God visit your repose. I will be here in this arbour until dawn. I have cast my net this day and I have caught two men; I am satisfied, and now I bid you good-night.”
Then my wife’s mother said, “But we have laid your bed in the house, I pray you enter and rest.”
And He answered her saying, “I would indeed rest, but not under a roof. Suffer me to lie this night under the canopy of the grapes and the stars.”
And she made haste and brought out the mattress and the pillows and the coverings. And He smiled at her and He said, “Behold, I shall lie down upon a bed twice made.”
Then we left Him and entered into the house, and my daughter was the last one to enter. And her eyes were upon Him until I had closed the door.
Thus for the first time I knew my Lord and Master.
And though it was many years ago, it still seems but of today.
And on this Communion Sunday, I repeat just a few lines again:
...He broke the bread and poured the wine; and He turned to us saying, “My friends, grace me now in sharing this food with me, even as the Father has graced us in giving it unto us.”
These words He said (before) ere He touched a morsel, for He wished to follow an ancient custom that the honoured guest becomes the host.
And as we sat with Him around the board we felt as if we were sitting at the feast of the great King. Amen.
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