The Day of Pentecost
The Day of Pentecost, also called Whitsunday, celebrates the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church. It occurs 50 days after Easter Day. In the biblical account, the first Christian Pentecost occurred at the time of the Jewish festival of Pentecost or Shavot, which was a celebration of the giving of the Torah on Mt Sinai and of the harvest, and which was held 50 days after Passover.
According to the account in the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts of the Apostles, after his resurrection Jesus remained with the disciples for a while, before “leaving”. Luke portrays his departure very concretely, as an ascension up into the sky to be with God (this year, remembered on 5th May). Did this mean that Jesus was no longer with the Christians? No! Rather, God’s presence on earth with Christians now took the form of the Holy Spirit. The Book of Acts has a colourful description of the coming of the Holy Spirit, dancing above people like tongues of flame and enabling miraculous communication. In the Gospel of John, Jesus talks about the Spirit as the helper or advocate, present with the disciples after Jesus has departed, who will teach and recall Jesus’ teaching (14:26).
In the logo of the UCA, the Spirit is symbolized as a dove with wings of flame. In the logo for Scots Church, she is a bird hovering over the city, with wings open to embrace the city.
Traditional Christianity describes God as a “Trinity”, that is, a oneness combined with a threeness: one essence, but three persons. In practical terms, it is an attempt to explain how something that we experience as in three different ways (Creator, Christ, Holy Spirit) is also a unity, with each part equal to the others.
The doctrine of the Trinity is not explained in the New Testament, but hinted at in places such as Matthew 28:19. Formulation of the doctrine took centuries. In this process, formulations frequently denied the equality of the three, suggesting that Jesus was inferior to the Creator God (e.g., essentially different, created later, or adopted as divine), or that the Holy Spirit was inferior to the other two. At times, these ideas were more popular than what we now call “orthodoxy”. Marcion (died 154) distinguished between the (wrathful) God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament, and thought Christ was divine, not human. The sect he founded continued for about 300 years, even though it promoted celibacy. Arianism (founded by Arius around 300) held that there were two separate divine beings, and that Christ was created by God. Some Roman emperors sympathized with this position which almost became the orthodoxy. Docetism refers to a belief that the humanity of Christ was just an illusion so that Christ’s suffering was also illusory. It has existed since the days of the early church and continues to crop up. Perhaps the most intriguing name for one “heresy” was Bogomilism.
The Council of Nicaea in 325 is usually cited as the pivotal point in the acceptance of the doctrine of the Trinity. It did not solve the controversies, though. The Eastern (Orthodox) and Western (Roman Catholic and Protestant) Churches later fell out over the expansion of the Nicene Creed to include a statement that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father “and the Son,” which suggested that the Spirit is somehow secondary to the other two. It is only in recent times that this variation has been set aside.
Discussion about the doctrine has never ended, and each age contains Christians who attempt to reformulate it in contemporary terms, as well as some who reject it. Personally, I like the shorthand that describes the Trinity as the Lover, the Beloved, and the Love that binds them. The binding Love is dynamic, and overflows out of the Trinity to include creation.
Frontier Services Sunday
This year, we will be celebrating Frontier Service Sunday on Trinity Sunday. Our guest preacher this year is Rev Judy Knowling. Judy was born in Adelaide and in her 20’s went to Queensland to follow a call to Lay Ministry in Maryborough as their Christian Education Officer. She later went to Brisbane and environs and spent many years as an Aged Care Chaplain. She completed training for Ministry of Deacon and was ordained in Brisbane in 1999. Judy had a brief experience of Parish Ministry in Nanango before heading to WA as the Frontier Service Pilbara Patrol Minister for 10 years. She is now back in Adelaide and the UC Chaplain at RAH.
The last Sunday in May has been set aside as a day to remind us of the need to build mutually respectful relationships between indigenous and other Australians. Contributions to this process nationally include the revised preamble to the constitution of the UCA, which affirms that the Spirit has never been absent from this land and was present even before the arrival of Captain Cook, the apology to the stolen generations by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in 2008, and the ongoing discussion of including recognition of the first peoples in the Australian Constitution. Rev Dr Peter Trudinger
Our thanks to Rosemary Michell for the Harvest Thanksgiving arrangement of April 17!
© Scots Church Adelaide Ph. 08 8223 1505