'The final part of the great Christian mystery' - Church leaders reflect on the meaning of Pentecost


Church leaders have shared their reflections on the meaning of Pentecost and the significance of coming together in prayer.

Contributions were made to a special recording for BBC Radio 4's Sunday worship by the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Westminster Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Methodist President the Rev Michaela Youngson and the Coptic Orthodox Archbishop of London, Archbishop Angaelos. 

Cardinal Nichols described Pentecost as "the final part of the great Christian mystery which obviously runs throughout the life of Jesus but comes to this climatic series of events in his suffering, his death on the cross, his resurrection from the dead, his appearance to his disciples and then what he promises, the gift of the Holy Spirit".

Rev Youngson said Christians should think of the Holy Spirit not as something functional "but rather a relationship". 

"So it's not what does the Holy Spirit do, but rather who are we in relationship to God, and the Holy Spirit allows us to be in relationship to God. 

"So I think it can be a unifying thing rather than divisive."

The Church leaders have been taking part in the prayer movement Thy Kingdom Come over the last 10 days. The initiative culminates today, Pentecost Sunday, in a festival in Trafalgar Square, London.

Rev Youngson continued: "For me, Thy Kingdom Come is such a wonderful example of when Christians of lots of different denominations join in together to pray and to focus on what it means to be Christians today and to think about the world we live in and to serve other people."

Pentecost was also a reminder, she said, that God can make something great from small beginnings.

"So we must never be afraid to start with something small because God honours and values the small and turns it into something great for the kingdom," she said.

Archbishop Angaelos said it was "really exciting" for Christians to come together in prayer at Pentecost.

"When we read the book of Acts, it talks about the apostles being in one place, of one accord, so just physically being in one place and being able to pray together and witness together is really exciting," he said.

"For us now, whether it's in our families or our communities or our parishes or even in our nation at the moment, meeting together face to face, being in one place, being of one accord and one mindset is incredibly important to have any shared vision or shared mission and so that sense of unity is important as it was at the beginning of the witness of the church throughout the world."

Archbishop Welby said the Holy Spirit was the "only one central character" in the Pentecost story "and so in all our life stories", and made the "miracle of heart to heart communication across cultures and differences" possible.

He said he had been praying in the run-up to Pentecost for the Holy Spirit to equip Christians "to speak and live the good news of Christ among those who live their lives not knowing all that has been done for them in Christ".

He went on to say that the Holy Spirit could enable "communication at the deepest level" and heal divisions.

"Hearts soften and become open to others, often very different others...forgiveness for enemies flows, reconciliation abounds with other people as well as with God.  We dearly need this gift again afresh in our churches," he said.

"If we pray for the renewing touch of the Spirit, we commit ourselves to be open to be sent to others to proclaim Christ in ways they can hear and comprehend.  We commit to becoming communicators of the wonders of the love of God in Jesus.

"We dearly need this gift again today in our country and in our world. The world needs to see difference overcome with love and fear of the other dissolved by the Spirit. The world needs to see comunities embracing diversity and filling the gaps between them with love.  They need to see the church like the disciples at Pentecost going out and changing evil to good, despair to hope."

He added, "In this world, the Spirit challenges every division and separation."