Sermon on Acts 2:1-11. Pentecost
The Spirit rested upon two men, one named Eldad and the other named Medad, and they prophesied. We heard this from the book of Numbers last night at Vespers. The Holy Spirit has spoken through the prophets. Long before Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was already inspiring and speaking to his people. Joshua suggested to Moses that he forbid Eldad and Medad from prophesying, but Moses replied, “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit upon them!” (Numbers 11).
The prophet Joel prophesied and the Lord spoke through him saying, “It shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh. Your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even upon the menservants and maidservants in those days, I will pour out my spirit.” (Joel 2). We also heard this at Vespers.
Beginning with Pentecost and continuing until this very day, the desire of Moses and the prophecy of Joel is coming to fruition. The Lord is putting his Spirit upon all his people. The Lord is pouring out his Spirit upon all flesh. Yes, even upon you! And even upon me. The word of both Moses & Joel, prophets of the Lord, is “all,” not “some.”
This is happening here and now just as it happened on Pentecost. That is to say, the Holy Spirit is descending upon us here in this place. While I am praying the anaphora in a few moments, listen for these words: I will pray to the Father, “We implore, pray, and entreat you: send down your Holy Spirit upon us and upon these gifts lying before us.” It is by the power of the Holy Spirit that bread and wine are changed into the body and blood of Christ. That is a miracle every bit as astonishing at the mighty wind and the tongues of fire resting upon each apostle on Pentecost (Acts 2).
Then I will pray for those who partake of the body and blood of Christ, that they may bring us into “the communion of the Holy Spirit.”
In thinking about the holy eucharist, maybe some of us tend to focus on the holy gifts themselves almost in isolation from what they are accomplishing in us. It needs to be pointed out that we pray not only for the Holy Spirit to come down upon the gifts, but first of all to come down upon us. “Send down your Holy Spirit upon us – and [then also] upon these gifts lying before us.”
The Holy Spirit changes the bread and wine into Jesus Christ so that by eating his body and drinking his blood we may be made one with Jesus Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit. Not for the purpose of resting in the tabernacle, but for the purpose of being joined to us for our salvation and our theosis.
As the great liturgical theologian, Fr. Robert Taft (of blessed memory) once said, “The purpose of the Eucharist isn’t to change bread and wine into Jesus Christ. It’s to change you and me into Jesus Christ.” And to that I would add on this Great Feast of Pentecost, it is to fill us with the Holy Spirit, as is evident from the eucharistic prayer itself.
One of the images of the presence of the Holy Spirit at this Divine Liturgy is that of fire. We light the oil lamps and candles when we pray for good reason. On Pentecost, there appeared to the apostles “tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them.” You can see this moment in the holy icon for this feast on the tetrapod. “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.”
There are more images of fire surrounding us as well. We have icons over my head of the seraphim as they were described by the prophet Isaiah with their six wings. Well, the seraphim are the fiery ones. Seraphim means “the ones who are on fire.” I submit that this is because they are in close communion with the Holy Spirit, and fire is an image of his presence. During the anaphora, we sing the hymn of these fiery angels, which Isaiah heard: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts. Heaven and earth are filled with your glory” (Isaiah 6:3).
One of the seraphim flew to Isaiah, “having in his hand a burning coal which he had taken with tongs from the altar, and with it he touched Isaiah’s mouth and said to him, “Behold this has touched your lips and will take away your iniquities and will cleanse your sins.” (Isaiah 6:7) These words are also familiar to us, as we hear them after partaking of the most holy gifts of the eucharist. The communion spoon with which the priest gives communion is like the tongs with which the seraphim takes the burning coal from the altar and the burning coal itself is an image of the holy eucharist. It burns away our sin and fills us with the Holy Spirit.
It was through this experience that Isaiah received his calling as a prophet. His mouth was touched with fire – reminiscent of the tongues of fire on Pentecost, and of what the Lord said to Jeremiah: “Behold, I am making my words in your mouth a fire.”
When we received holy communion, we are receiving that same prophetic calling. This eucharistic liturgy, which we are now celebrating, is one of the ways in which the Lord is fulfilling the prophecy of Joel and pouring out his spirit upon all flesh. May he also turn us all into his prophets, as Moses desired.
A prophet is one who makes known the presence and the will of the Lord through both words and actions. Paul teaches us to earnestly desire this gift of prophecy, just as Moses desired it for all. Paul writes, “Make love your aim, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy” (1 Cor 14:1). I like that he begins with love. Love is the will of God and his greatest commandment. Loving others is the first step toward prophesying to them. If you do not love someone, you cannot hope to prophecy to them.
Paul continues on to say, “He who prophesies speaks to men for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation” (1 Cor 14:3). This is love indeed. Let us begin with love, receive the fire of the Holy Spirit through the holy mysteries, especially the most holy eucharist, prophesy, and speak the truth with love to all the world.