Why did the Holy Spirit need to come down on the disciples? Why did Jesus make such a point of saying He would send the Holy Spirit to them? Why do WE need the Holy Spirit?
When things start to go wrong in our modern societies it is tempting to think that instead of examining our values we should simply have fewer of them. And so we hear it said that the solution for a fragmented society is to encourage people to be less religious and less assertive of their beliefs – which is described as necessary for tolerance. Secular society seems to be very unsure about its own values and even religious people are affected by this public confusion. Even some Christians express the quaint view that there is no such thing as objective truth.
Jesus however provides us with the model of a true human community. There was certainly much confusion in his own society in which Jewish values had to compete with Greek, Roman and other values. His response to this turbulent and often violent world was to bring to light the essential character of the God who had never forsaken his chosen people. He could only do this with conviction because he is the Son of that same God, literally One with the Father and the Spirit.
The Father expressed his love for us by sending his Son into our world as a man so that it would be possible for us to participate in the very life of the Holy Trinity. In his life on earth there was only so much that the Son of God could do. But the Ascension of Jesus to heaven was the prelude to the coming of the Holy Spirit so that we might experience the full presence of the third person of the Trinity too. The advent of the Spirit meant that God would not only dwell with us but even within us, enabling us perfectly to follow the Son in all that he taught.
That is why Pentecost was necessary and that is why the Church, at its best at least, is that perfect community for which all human beings long. Communities are united by their common values, but a perfect community requires the presence of the Holy Spirit in each one of us, binding us together in perfect love. That perfect community is certainly to be found in heaven but even here on earth we can help to build it by communicating the merciful love of God to our own society and to the whole world. No culture is perfect. Every culture needs to be held up to the light of the Gospel and purified by it. But, because the Holy Spirit has come upon us, every culture when transformed is called to play a part in forming that shining city of hope.
Fr Chris Denham