One of my favourite hymns is Veni Creator Spiritus (which means, ‘Come, Creator Spirit’). It is usually sung on the Day of Pentecost, and almost always at ordinations. The version that you might find in an Anglican hymn book goes like this:
Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire
and lighten with celestial fire;
thou the anointing Spirit art,
who dost thy sevenfold gifts impart.
Thy blessed unction from above
is comfort, life, and fire of love;
enable with perpetual light
the dullness of our blinded sight.
Anoint and cheer our soiled face
with the abundance of thy grace;
keep far our foes, give peace at home;
where thou art guide no ill can come.
Teach us to know the Father, Son,
and thee, of both, to be but one;
that through the ages all along
this may be our endless song:
Praise to thy eternal merit,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The idea, implicit in this great and ancient hymn of the church, is that God is available to us. Present with us. Working with us and in us and through us. Doing things that include us, but are bigger than us. Going places we can’t anticipate.
You might notice that there are more appointed readings for this Sunday than usual. And, even though we’ll still have the same number of readings in our worship folder for Sunday, one of the fun things about this blog is that it gives us the chance to engage with a wider range of things. So, as we contemplate the coming of God’s Spirit at Pentecost, I’d like to journey all the way back to consider a strange story from the Book of Numbers.
Our passage takes place in the wilderness, when the newly-freed slaves are on their way to becoming the nation of Israel. The people are surviving in harsh circumstances because of the manna that God provides – and even though the manna is always enough, it isn’t satisfying the particular craving that they currently have. Because, these people want meat.
More than meat, the people recall the delicious things that they had to eat in Egypt – fish, melons, leeks, garlic, and so on. Just a little distance from Egypt, and the memory of oppression fades enough that there is room to long for the comfort and stability provided by the empire.
Because all too often, enough isn’t enough. All too often, the thing most present to us is the thing that is absent. We have enough – but the thing we most want is the thing we don’t have. Like ten thousand spoons, when all you need is a knife.
Moses laments the fickleness of the people, and the miserable position he’s in as leader. He cannot carry the weight of leadership alone. He wants out.
So God tells Moses to gather up seventy elders, and God takes some of the spirit that is on Moses and redistributes it to the elders. And the newly spirit-drenched elders prophesy.
But two people remained in the camp – and God’s spirit falls on them too. And they prophesy.
The trouble is – this is not part of the plan.
This unauthorized movement of the spirit is promptly reported to the authorities, and Joshua urges Moses to step in and stop all of this. Joshua assumes that leadership is to be managed and controlled, with Moses carefully ensuring that everything runs according to plan.
But Moses won’t stop it. He celebrates it, and longs for it to continue and spread. ‘Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets!’ he quips.
Because we need more people prophesying, not fewer. We need more unexpected, uncontrolled, uncensored engagement with God the Living Presence.
Sometimes, I wonder if a dark mood is upon us in much the same way that it was over the people of Israel in the wilderness. When enough doesn’t feel like enough, when we long for the things that sustained us just a few months ago, when we aspire to direct and control the movement of God. When the burdens of today feel too much to carry.
But, the story of Pentecost (and the whole of the story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus) is about a movement that includes all of us, and that cannot be controlled or contained. We are stretched, challenged, and prompted to move into new places, languages, and cultures.
I have no idea where this current era is going, or how long our circumstances will last. I have no idea what is coming next.
But, come what may, I pray that God will enlighten with celestial grace the dullness of our blinded sight. That we may know the fullness of God the Living Presence, and be a part of the ongoing movement of the spirit.