One of the things that strikes me about the celebration of Pentecost, are its Jewish roots. When the disciples met in the upper room on that day, they almost certainly would have reflected upon the passages of Exodus 19 and 20 which detail the events around the arrival of the Hebrew nation at Mount Sinai, seven weeks after they had experienced the great liberation from the slavery of Egypt. We read there:
16 On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. 17 Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. 18 Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire.
From this passage we can see that one of the ways that the people knew that God was present on the mountain, and that they were in fact going out to meet him, was the presence of fire. If you want to experience God, then be prepared to be burnt! Which is odd, given that our culture has tended to think of fire for the other destination – hell. Indeed, when you do a Google image search for ‘hell’ the screen will be a wash of red flames. Yet if we took the time to ponder this, we know that it is when out hearts grow colder that we turn inward and away from God. So perhaps Hell should rather be imagined not as a place of fire, but as a place of cold and ice.
Maybe the flames of God’s love, and the flames of heaven, are always going to be hotter and brighter than anything else that the counterfeit can produce – because God’s fire is about purification and truth. Which leads us to ponder more about the end of the story and what the New Creation will be like and how we might imagine the resurrection of our bodies, and what impact this all has on our present experience of following God today.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 9.30am (13 mins)
Pentecost Sunday, Year C.