Rowan Williams on Pentecost – Saint Margaret’s Church, Wolstanton.
He will take what is mine, says Jesus and declare it to you.
When we give thanks for the gift of the Holy Spirit, that verse should be very much at the heart of our thinking and our praying. The Holy Spirit is taking what belongs to Jesus, and not just declaring it – not just talking about it – but actually sharing it. It’s very clear from those wonderful chapters in John’s gospel, that what is going to happen when the Spirit comes is not just that we’re going to hear a lot of interesting new ideas about God, but that somehow what belongs to Jesus – the glory that he had with the Father before the world began, as he says – that is going to become ours.
So if we start thinking about what exactly that might mean, two things at least may come to mind. What belongs to Jesus? What is it that belongs to Jesus that the Holy Spirit shares with us? Well, what belongs to Jesus, first and foremost, is two kinds of life or identity. There’s his life with God, that eternal life with God in the mystery of the Holy Trinity; that everlasting outpouring of joy and delight and adoration which the eternal Christ gives to the eternal Father – a little foretaste of what we’ll be thinking about next Sunday when we celebrate the mystery of the Trinity. What belongs to Jesus is that unfathomable depth of relationship, to the everlasting Love out of which everything springs – a reality for which we have no words and no clear ideas. We can only look into a deepening – always deepening – mystery. And that is what belongs to Jesus and what the Holy Spirit shares with us. Because through the gift of the Holy Spirit, so St Paul tells us, we’re able to share the prayer that Jesus prays. When we say “Our Father” we’re jumping into that great mystery, that depth of eternal prayer, which Christ gives to the Father. It really is like hurling ourselves into a river flowing towards the mystery, flowing towards a kind of waterfall over which the water drops forever and ever. The prayer of the eternal Christ to the eternal Father. That’s what the Holy Spirit shares with us. It belongs to Jesus, it is given to us, and when we say those apparently very simple words “Our Father who art in Heaven” we ought to think of sailing towards the waterfall. We are being carried along by the eternal strength of Jesus’ love for the Father, his everlasting prayer.
That’s exciting enough, but of course what also belongs to Jesus is humanity. And not just any old humanity, but a humanity that is in touch with every human being who has ever lived and ever will live. By taking on our human nature, the everlasting Son of God has related himself to every human being in every age and every place. And that humanity that is in touch with the whole human mystery – that which belongs to Jesus – that too becomes ours. We become part of a new humanity, a new human race, a new level of connectedness with every human being. And that’s pretty exciting as well. The Spirit in the New Testament is always the Spirit of connection. That’s because when the Holy Spirit comes to us, we are connected to God in a different way, at a different level, by being flung into this great mystery for love, for Christ, for the Father, and we’re being connected afresh with all human beings in compassion and understanding and solidarity.
That’s why the gift of the Holy Spirit is the foundation of the two great facts of Christian life: adoration and compassion. Because we are connected with Jesus’ prayer to the Father; we are caught up in his loving, joyful, everlasting adoration of God. That’s why, of course, one of the things Christians most want to do when their faith is really coming alive, is simply to gaze into the mystery of God – to let themselves be swept over that waterfall into the depths of God’s everlasting love. And the other thing that they want to do, if their Christian faith is really coming alive, is to be there alongside all human beings in all the variety of their experience – to be alongside human beings who are rejoicing, who are succeeding, who are making something of their lives. To be alongside human beings who are grieving, who are lost, who are despairing. Adoration and compassion: two kinds of connection, because the Holy Spirit is the spirit that makes connections. ‘He will take what belongs to me and declare it to you.’ The Spirit will make those connections real in our lives.