After Christmas and Easter, the Day of Pentecost is perhaps
the third most significant festival of the Christian Church year, the day on
which we celebrate the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “Peace be with you. As the
Father sent me, so I send you.” He then breathed on them and said, “Receive the
Holy Spirit.” (John 20:19-23) This is the Holy Spirit traditionally symbolized
with a descending dove such as the gold-leafed dove atop the reredos behind our
The Holy Spirit is also symbolized by a rush of wind and
tongues of fire, which is the scene depicted in the Acts reading for today (Sunday,
May 15): “And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a
violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided
tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.
All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages.”
So, which is it: the Holy Spirit descending dove of peace,
or the Holy Spirit mighty wind and tongues of fire?
The answer is, of course, both. Jesus brings peace, among
many other things. The Holy Spirit brings peace and energetic wind and flaming
tongues of fire. And we need all of the above.
Musically, the Holy Spirit may be reflected in both tones.
This Sunday, with the spirit banner swirling above, we will sing great hymns in
procession, “Praise the Spirit in creation” and “Hail thee, festival day.” We
will sing Vaughan Williams’ great tune Down
Ampney with the text “Come down, O Love divine,” which is frankly one of
the best things in the book.
We will also sing lovely, soft, peaceful texts, a Bach
chorale “O Spirit of Life, O Spirit of God” and the 20th-century hymn
“Like the murmur of the dove’s song.” The Parish Choir will sing a traditional
text “Holy Spirit, truth divine” in a brand-new-to-them setting by contemporary
English composer Andrew Carter (b. 1939).
Giving a nod to our regular Pentecost baptisms, the Bach
chorale prelude An wasserflüssen Babylon (By
the waters of Babylon) will begin the service. And the rousing Duruflé setting
of the ancient hymn Veni sancte spiritus (Come,
Holy Ghost) will triumphantly close the liturgy.
Come to church this Sunday. Wear red.** Sing loudly, as if
with a tongue of fire. Pray peacefully, as if the dove of peace is sitting on
your shoulder. Celebrate the Holy Spirit, and let us be thankful that we are
If ye love me, keep my
And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter,
that he may abide with
you for ever. (John 14:15-16)