Picture of a pot of fire which was lit in eighth
              century B.C.

The Day of Pentecost - Whitsunday
Sacred Fire


Fire is the most awesome and frightening of elements, yet when it is our servant it is precious beyond belief. So precious that the passing on of the flame has been an essential ingredient of many priesthoods from the beginning of time. The fire you see on the left was lit in the eighth century B. C. and shifted to its present position in 1940. (The picture was taken through glass.) It may be that this practice began so that the tribe would never be without fire to warm themselves, fire to cook with, and fire for protection, certainly the practice was universal, and fire was always regarded as Holy. Without the fire the comfort of the hearth, home is not. Greek Colonists would take with them fire from the civic hearth of their home city, so that the flame was passed on and with it, not only the memories of the virtues of home, but the courage to live up to the pioneers and ancestors who had themselves brought that flame to the mother city.  

When we speak of the passing on of the light, and symbolize this by lighting our candles from the Christ Candle at Easter, and pass the light on from one to the other, we are using tame fire to symbolize - and to contain - wild lordly fire which has broken out among us and may not be constrained. Fire that is a necessity of life itself. To Pneuma, the Greeks called the Spirit - the breath or the wind, and to anyone who has ever been near a bush fire, that scorching breathlessness will be a vivid reminder of a strength that is alien, majestic and overwhelming - the Holy Spirit of God. When we remember the Day of Pentecost as the Churches Birthday, let us not trivialize the tongues of fire as only birthday candles. The awesome holiness of God is indeed pictured by the charm and the innocence of the lights - the light this child has given us for - how many ? Two Thousand years.. but it is more, much more than the beginning that lies in spiritual childhood.There was, as it were, the sound of a rushing wind, and tongues of fire.  That God whose mere presence could shrivel the breath and life from a human being in the Old Testament just by being there is still alive today - and what C.S. Lewis describes as 'burning, holy charity' is no less dangerous because it is the soul of love. Far otherwise, if it were less than love there could be malice, something understandable and human about it, something avoidable in it: but this is the core of sacredness itself, the heart of love.  

When I was younger I was taught that the priest entered the sanctuary before the server and other ministers because - in a way - this earthed the spirit and made His presence bearable for others less prepared for it. This was not because the Priest was 'better', just more attuned, one hoped, to The Presence. He was the servant of the Sacred and it recognized him in a special way. I might not wish for those days again - but I do wish that we would remember the truth that lay behind the courtesy.This was not - as we are told - a spirit of fear and timidity. But this Is the Holy Spirit. That same power which raised Jesus from the dead and which now dwells within us. Banked, no doubt by many humble, mundane concerns, but still a living spirit, which will break out at the oddest of times. Love has this way of relaxing and expanding us, we tend to open up - to reach others more readily, and to be more easily understood by them, when we are in love, and once that love has entered us we find ourselves taking risks we might not otherwise have taken, finding delight where we might have seen nothing before.. find ourselves too, with pains we never had before, groaning in the spirit for things that to the ordinary mind are none of our business and far away. Treasured habits burn off and fall away, charred and neglected ash, sometimes with the suddenness and pain of cauterization - sometimes in the long slow fire. But we must, like the ancients, remember to keep that central fire burning in us. To tend the flame, and feed it, to spend time dwelling with Him, and allowing his warmth to penetrate our coldness and to transform our way of being in the everyday world around us.

So it was for the Disciples. They had dwelt for forty days, not in the Wilderness, but with each other in the glow of love and blessing and the new sense of presence which had been given them at Jesus' Ascension. More open and honest with each other than ever before. The tradition is that they were in the Cenacle, the place where they ate the last supper, when the wind and flame caught them, filled them, purged them and gave them the tongues to speak to others. It was no coincidence that this occurred on the Jewish Feast of Shavu'ot, the Festival of Weeks, which is the second of the three major festivals with both historical and agricultural significance (the other two are Passover and Sukkot). This is a Harvest festival, a time for gathering the first-friuts of one's labours. it celebrates the time when the first fruits are harvested and brought to the Temple, and is known as Hag ha-Bikkurim (the Festival of the First Fruits). Historically, it celebrates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, and is also known as Hag Matan Torateinu (the Festival of the Giving of Our Torah). The holiday is called the time of the giving of the Torah, rather than the time of the receiving of the Torah. The sages point out that we are constantly in the process of receiving the Torah, that we receive it every day, but it was first given at this time. Thus it is the giving, not the receiving, that makes this holiday significant, and how perfect a picture this is of the gift of the Law of the Spirit, and the first fruits of the Son.

Work is not permitted during Shavu'ot and it is customary to stay up the entire first night of Shavu'ot and study Torah, then pray as early as possible in the morning. Imagine the Apostles, and the women doing just that, on this
particular year when the Holy Spirit chose to join them at their feast, and by his love to begin, once more, to transform the world.

Love is not just a candle in the dark, though God knows how much such a candle flame can hurt,
it is not just a comfortable friend to lean on, though Love is those things.
This Love is a dream to be passed on, a tradition to be proud of, Love is Presence to live up to and Light to hand to future generations.
But Love is not tame.  
This is the Divine Lover who caused a virgin to burst into pregnancy,  
This is the wind driving his people through the desert for the love of a dream, and a vision,  
This is the urgency of Life which made a dead man get up as one who has slept until the dawn,
This is the Ruach Elohim, the Breath of God,  
This is the Comforter who provides strength before shelter, the outreacher, the outrider, the one who goes before, whose gifts
ourselves renewed in loveliness,  
are the pain of shedding our old fears, suspicions, hurts and pains,  
these are gifts  
of love, of understanding, of teaching, of interpreting, of kindliness, honesty, self control -  
oh yes, all these good things !
And it is these good things, this passionate purity,  
this all accepting. all embracing love  
which makes this Perfect Spirit's presence  
like a refiner's fire.
The Spirit is the Harvester of Souls, who rides the wind, who enters our souls as surely as the breath enters our bodies.
He knows us intimately, cell by cell and neuron by neuron, and it of The Spirit that St. Paul says,  
"One day we shall know Him as we are known by Him. "
Transformation of our very nature must take place before that is even physically possible, Transformation that begins now.

Come down oh Love Divine,  
Seek thou this soul of mine,  
and visit it with Thine own ardour glowing ..
O, Comforter, draw near,  
Within my heart appear;  
and kindle it,  
Thy Holy Flame bestowing.