22nd May 2021

Thank you for inviting me to join you on this eve of Pentecost, as you wait in Jerusalem.

As the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary, mother of our Lord, so that the life of Christ might be conceived for the world, so the same Holy Spirit overshadows God’s people, and brings to birth the body of Christ afresh, to proclaim the love of God and serve God’s kingdom in a needy world.

Let’s be clear – the Holy Spirit is not the possession of the church. The Holy Spirit is not contained within our walls. I have learnt that, especially in the last year, acting as a very inexperienced assistant chaplain in the local hospital, massive hospital, one of the big London ones, during the COVID pandemic. And the thing I have seen most clearly, the theological truth and practical truth that has been born most deeply in me, is seeing the work of the Holy Spirit beyond and ahead of the church, levelling the ground, preparing the way. That sense of the Spirit’s presence as on one occasion I knelt by the bedside of a Muslim woman dying of COVID. Where the chaplain had been asked if someone could pray for her, anyone – I was the anyone. And a sense of the presence of the Sprit was so deeply profound. A reminder of God seeing our humanity.

The Holy Spirit is the freedom of God. The reaching out of God from beyond God’s own life so that we may be caught up in His reality. Oh, we use all kinds of bad analogies. We say, the Holy Spirit is the fuel in the car’s engine. No, no, no, no. We are talking here about the abundance of God. The super abundant God – the God of infinite abundance who also made the stars! Remember that passage in Genesis? He made the stars also.

The Holy Spirit makes the church to be in the world, that the Holy Spirit continues in existence. There is nothing we are, nothing we do which isn’t enabled and empowered by the Holy Spirit. There is no moment in the world’s history where we are not sustained by the Holy Spirit in the whole of creation. And across every church that bears the name of Christ, the Holy Spirit makes the distance up by filling the space we put between us. By calling us into unity and love. God willing, by grieving us when we grieve one another.

Is this essential work of the Spirit evident to us? Are we aware that we are utterly dependent on the presence and power of the Holy Spirit? We can’t even get out of bed without the Holy Spirit. Our hearts will not beat another beat without the Holy Spirit. I encourage you, with all my heart, to pray to the Father in the name and for the glory of the Son, to send the Spirit to his people, afresh in new power, that the life of Christ may be renewed in us and his church begin to look like Christ, for the sake of the world he loves.

Come, Holy Spirit and set our hearts on fire with the flame of your love.


 Justin Welby