Image (detail): Orthodox Icon Descent of the Holy Spirit.

‘Works of love in action

Andrew Collis
Pentecost, Year C
Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:24-34, 35b; John 14:8-17 

The Orthodox icon called Descent of the Holy Spirit shows the inner meaning of Pentecost – revealed to event participants. Among those depicted is the apostle Paul who at the time of Luke’s account was known as Saul the persecutor. The evangelists Mark and Luke are also shown, holding the gospels they were yet to write.

This inner or theological meaning is deep and wide.

It has to do with covenant, with Torah (language, translation, communication), with harvest – fruits of the earth and of human labour; with the renewal of God’s people and all creation – “How many are your works, O God! In wisdom you have made them all” (Psalm 104:24).

In Descent of the Holy Spirit figures are seated in a semicircle (note the semicircles [mandorlas] at the top and bottom of the icon; perhaps we see the “U” of the UCA emblem – a pentecostal image). There is order, a certain harmony, yet there’s incompleteness. It’s not that our lives are inevitably imperfect. They are, in the Spirit, richer than any idea of perfection.

That’s good to know, good news …

Readers/scholars note the inverse perspective of the icon. Figures appear larger the further away they are – figures appear larger as they sit nearer the empty, unoccupied space (the teacher’s seat). Or, in variant icons, nearer to Mary the Mother of God (representative of Jesus and exemplar of faith).

We take it in turns to reflect (on) the gospel, to share our testimony. We attend to the testimony of others. We grow in faith and wisdom (it takes time, perhaps a lifetime) all the while approaching a holy emptiness, respecting/revering it – the unknown, the not yet …

Also good to remember, good news …

In Descent of the Holy Spirit figures dress and gesture differently. We are not called to uniformity.

Jesus says: “Believe because of the works I do.” 

The works of Jesus, including (seven) signs and miracles, entail revealing the One Jesus calls Abba – a God of goodness, compassion and forgiveness. The work of Jesus is to bring life, and life is relationship.

We can all do these works. We can all reveal the God of goodness, compassion and forgiveness. We can all help to bring life by affirming/enhancing relationship — mediating wherever appropriate, mending whenever necessary. 

Perhaps, we think, in meagre or modest ways. 

It is striking, though, that Jesus speaks of our “greater works” …

“The strongest sign of great power is when a person does extraordinary things not only by herself but also through others” (St Thomas Aquinas). Jesus, in the Spirit, gives credit, grants access, confers wisdom and power …

We cherish true mentors/teachers who delight in their students’ capacities for learning and growing, doing and making … who invite collaboration, expansion … just as the body of Christ transcends time and place.

Jesus, in the Spirit – in and through us – gives credit, grants access, confers wisdom and power …

Karen and Dalcy live and work in the same Spirit. And we are blessed to receive them as coworkers, members, friends.

Their work (with children and families, inmates and communities), is, in the warm light of Pentecost, the liberation of humanity, the transformation of life.

Wherever anybody works for humankind, for a more just society, for the revolution or kindom, the work of Abba God is being done. Creation is being continued … “[G]reat works of love in action continue to be accomplished through the power of God’s Spirit” (Peter Walker) …

That’s good to see and say, good news …

Thanks be to God. Amen.