June 12, 2011
Pentecost 2011. Acts 2, 1-21; John 20, 19-23
Are you sitting comfortably. Then I’ll begin. Here’s a story from a very famous book. I wonder if you know where it comes from.
There was a table set out under a tree in front of the house, and the March Hare and the Hatter were having tea at it: a Dormouse was sitting between them, fast asleep, and the other two were using it as a cushion, resting their elbows on it, and talking over its head. `Very uncomfortable for the Dormouse,’ thought Alice; `only, as it’s asleep, I suppose it doesn’t mind.’
The table was a large one, but the three were all crowded together at one corner of it: `No room! No room!’ they cried out when they saw Alice coming. `There’s plenty of room!’ said Alice indignantly, and she sat down in a large arm-chair at one end of the table.
`Have some wine,’ the March Hare said in an encouraging tone.
Alice looked all round the table, but there was nothing on it but tea. `I don’t see any wine,’ she remarked.
`There isn’t any,’ said the March Hare.
`Then it wasn’t very civil of you to offer it,’ said Alice angrily.
`It wasn’t very civil of you to sit down without being invited,’ said the March Hare.
`I didn’t know it was your table,’ said Alice; `it’s laid for a great many more than three.’
That was a passage about a party. We have a party here every week. Like all the best parties, we have a special tablecloth, and candles, and special plates and cups to eat and drink from, and special food that we don’t have at any other time; and all the guests put on their nice clothes to come and share in the party.
Like all the best parties, this one helps us to remember a special event. It reminds us that Jesus came to teach us what God is like, and that he died and was raised to life in heaven with God – all the things we have been remembering over the past couple of months. It reminds us also that God sends the Holy Spirit to strengthen and inspire us, which is one thing we are particularly celebrating and remembering today.
Our readings remind us that the gift of the Holy Spirit comes to us in different ways. Sometimes it comes in spectacular ways, like the event described in the Book of Acts, like rushing wind and tongues of fire, and has striking effects on the people who receive it, enabling them to speak in many different ways to spread the message. But sometimes it comes very quietly, like a breath of another person, as it is described in John’s Gospel, and works quietly within people. It doesn’t matter how we experience it, through the Holy Spirit our Father God and our Lord Jesus Christ are with us throughout our Christian journey, and, like the special balloons we have brought here to celebrate this day with, we are lifted up to share in the life of God.
Today we are also celebrating the fact that M. and H. have accepted God’s invitation to share in this very special meal in a new and deeper way. Both of them have been coming to this party, and have received a blessing at the altar rail since they were very tiny babies. But today, they will eat the bread and drink the wine, and symbolically receive the Body and Blood of Christ for the first time. And all of us who are here offer them a very warm welcome to the party, and hope they will be here to party with us regularly, week by week, as we celebrate God’s gifts to us of Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
Until a short time ago, we wouldn’t have been able to welcome them to God’s table in this way. Up until then, this party had a lot of similarities with the Mad Hatter’s Party. There were all sorts of people say “No room, no room” to every baptised child who approached the table, even though it seemed to other people that there was lots of room, and that God and Jesus, who are our hosts, would always welcome anybody, of whatever age.
Jesus said that one of the tasks of the Holy Spirit is to guide Christians into new truths, to challenge them about what they believe and how they do things. And that is what happened recently when the Church of England decided that it was right to allow baptised children to share the bread and wine before Confirmation, as soon as they were old enough to be taught something about what it means. In this diocese it was decided that was when they were about seven years old, which is why H. and M. are able to take this next step on their faith journey today.
They have been preparing for this day for many weeks. Of course, they don’t understand everything about the Holy Communion yet. None of us do. All of us will go on learning with them as we accept God’s invitation week by week to share with him in the party to which everyone is invited, and at which the host never says “No room”.