Saturday, 23 May 2015

God's Engagement Ring

It was one of the comic Guide to the Church type books of the late 80s on which this blog is so much dependent (in fact we've probably recycled every single thing to do during a boring sermon over the years). And it gave a definition that I've always loved.

"The Holy Spirit: God's engagement ring"

My cousin Chas had a habit of getting engaged. He couldn't kick the habit. He was a young man of deep emotions. He was constantly getting engaged to be married, and then it would all break up And then a few months later he was engaged again. It wasn't Chazzer we felt sorry for, on his constant emotional roller-coaster. It was his endless succession of fiancees. All lovely girls. And the later ones in the series must have wondered, at their one of the many engagement parties to which our family were invited, why we weren't buying them presents. It was simple. If Chas wanted us to give him another toaster as an engagement present, he was going to have to give a few back first.

That's the point about engagements - they are provisional. They don't give next-of-kin rights. They don't imply sharing worldly goods or debts. They are not the full thing. It used to be the custom in Dorset, according to Thomas Hardy, that young engaged couples would sleep together before marriage but, once a young bundle of joy was on the way, they would marry. If after a while no such blessing was apparent, they could be free to go off and get engaged again, no questions asked.

But an engagement ring is a promise. It says at some point - which may or may not be determined at the moment - we will marry. And the Holy Spirit is that promise in Ephesians 1: 
"In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit who is the pledge of our inheritance towards redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory."
So the Holy Spirit is the promise of good things to come, the engagement ring that promises a future wedding, the down-payment on eternity. And she arrives at Pentecost.

In the Hebrew then Jewish calendar, Pentecost was a harvest festival. It was called the Feast of Weeks, because it was  7 weeks after Passover - but it was also called First Fruits.  It was the start of the wheat harvest - and in the Temple, an offering of two loaves was made, and other fruits would be brought to the Temple as an offering.

And when the Spirit falls on the people at Pentecost, it's about a first. They're the first fruit of the new world order that God is creating. They receive that first promise of eternal life - the Holy Spirit. They have God's Spirit - the Spirit who is with Father and Son in heaven forever - fall upon them. The Spirit who is the Love of God personified - or if you prefer, the Spirit from whom all love proceeds - falls on men and women and fills them with the love and praise of God, to such an extent and in such a way that their praise transcends their own languages and spills out into all the languages of the earth.

See, the thing about knowing something as incredible as that Jesus died for us, and rose again - is that you can't keep it to yourself. And the thing about something as amazing as the Holy Spirit deciding to take up residence - is that you can't stop talking about this, and talking about it with power. And before anyone knows where they are, there's hundreds and soon thousands of people all believing that Jesus is alive, and having the proof because God's Holy Spirit is living in their hearts. And the disciples - those firstfruits - become the start of something that spreads across the world, as people have joy in their hearts and power in their souls. Power from God's living Spirit. Pentecost is all about beginnings - that's why some call it the Church's birthday.

And Pentecost is about saying that, if you let the Spirit take control - if you're wanting to be with God, and you're listening to God, and you give God the chance to do what God wants, instead of clinging onto what you like - then the Spirit will take you on a journey. Washed the disciples across half the world, in their different directions.

But if you want to cling onto the way things are - if the disciples had gone back off fishing again, the Church would have been a few people, chatting about how great Jesus had been, until they all died. It's easy to cling onto how things are, decide we love the things we know. A church is a history store. There's memorials, there's memories. We remember what happened in Archdruid Angela's day (well, we say we do - as I've previously established, there was no such person). And maybe things were better when the church was full and there were 2,000 children in Little Pebbles and people far away across the fields used to fall to their knees when they heard the tolling of the iron bell. Maybe on Sundays in England the swings in the park were chained up and everybody spoke in whispers in the street and wore their best things. Maybe it was better in Ireland when the Catholic Church could run the joint and the government had to grovel to the bishops. Maybe that all happened. Maybe it was all true. It's nice, maybe, and it's encouraging, maybe but no matter how hard we cling to it it's not coming back. And if we cling to it then nothing new is going to happen either.

An engagement ring is something that pulls us forwards. It always points us to the future. An engaged couple will spend a lot of time talking about how they met, their shared stories, they'll try to tease out from each other when they first noticed the other, when they first fell in love. But if they never spoke about their wedding day, you'd think something was pretty wrong, wouldn't you?

And so with the Church. We study the Bible - that's the story of how the Church fell in love with God. It's the story of God's love for the Church. And we revere our tradition - the people who went before us, from the prophets and apostles all the way through to Oscar Romero. And it's lovely to be engaged. You can't get a better engagement ring that the Holy Spirit. She's God at work, in us, today. And we can receive the body and blood of Jesus - and we're united to him.

But it's still only an engagement. There's a world we're being called to, to which these are clues and foretastes. In the world to come, we won't know the Spirit in fits and starts - we won't be filled with him according to how full of other stuff we are already. We'll drink from the river that heals the nations. And the presence of Jesus won't be masked as bread and wine, and the body of Christ won't be a thing we try - with the Spirit's help - to be. Instead we'll know God as we are known. And we will throw the glories we piled up for ourselves on earth at his feet and know that the Lamb of God is with us, and among us, and we will be in his presence forever.
"We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies."
That's where we are now, in the world as it is, in our lives as they are. If we have received the Spirit of God, we want more. We will pray to God for more of his presence, pray to be made more like Jesus. We will pray to be Jesus to those who don't know him so that, through us, they may know him. We will not face in on ourselves, cling to pasts that no longer exist, cling to the small experience of God that we have and try to hold that tight in our hands so it doesn't get away. We won't try to bottle up the Spirit  like we've blown air into a balloon and tie the knot tight, knowing that when the air has dissipated out through the rubber the balloon is useless.

Instead, we shall groan with the creation. We shall have a vision of what is to come - and a vision of how we can bring it into being in this world. The Spirit is not a Spirit of decay or of stasis - she is a power of forward movement and new life. Constantly, if we give the Spirit the chance, working new things in us, and through us into others.

The Spirit is God's engagement ring. One day, that engagement will be a marriage. One day.

1 comment :

  1. 'The Spirit is God's engagement ring'. What a wonderfully helpful image - as is your post. Thank you.


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