In the Easter Season we are reminded by Jesus’ words and actions that we have been blessed by God’s Holy Spirit. The Advocate/Comforter or Spirit of Truth as it is also called has been sent by the Father to enable us in our Christian prayer and discipleship. Jesus’ resurrection appearances can only ever be fleeting and temporary – but in them we are promised and given the Holy Spirit. Jesus breathes on the disciples as he brings peace and reconciliation; he returns after his death as a promise and sign of God’s power and victory over death and to empower us with God’s Spirit.
This Thursday is Ascension Day (25th May) the first day of 9 which have been marked out as a time of prayer for the holy spirit. It is a tradition that comes from the Roman Catholic Church and it has been taken up very enthusiastically by our Archbishops as an international movement and encouragement to pray. Last year was the first year that the Archbishops launched #thykingdomcome and promoted the 9 days as a period of prayer for evangelism, encouraging people to pray for their family and friends.
I must admit that last year if was the first I had heard about this specific practice of praying for the Holy Spirit from Ascension to Pentecost. The practice, I have later discovered emanates from 19th century Blessed Elena Guerra founder of the Sisters of the Holy Spirit. She dedicated herself to the education of girls and was particularly concerned about a renewal of prayer for the Holy Spirit. Her prayer led the Pope at the time People Leo the 13th to write an encyclical on the Holy Spirit.
Divinum illud munus (English title: On the Holy Spirit) is an encyclical issued by Pope Leo XIII on May 15, 1897.
In it the Pope wrote that:
‘We ought to pray to and invoke the Holy Spirit, for each one of us greatly needs His protection and His help. The more a man is deficient in wisdom, weak in strength, borne down with trouble, prone to sin, so ought he the more to fly to Him who is the never-ceasing fount of light, strength, consolation, and holiness.”
In our time the Spirit has worked enabling Anglican and Protestants to join together in prayer from Ascension to Pentecost uniting with the Roman Catholic Church. Revive in Rugby has enthusiastically taken up the call to prayer and on Pentecost Sunday at 6.30pm there will be a unity service at St Peter John Church hosted by Sheila.
During this 9 days, called a novena, we all have an opportunity to renew our prayer and specifically to pray for the Holy Spirit. We will mark the period at St Andrew’s Church with silent prayer at 6.30pm on Thursday until 7.15pm followed by a service of Holy Communion. Prayer resources will be available from Thursday for anyone to pick up from church and we’ll be giving away free copies of St John’s Gospel. They’ll also be a Peace and Reconciliation textile exhibition in church.
Last weekend 10 of us went away together to pray. The early days of the church remind us that Christian discipleship above all else is about being in fellowship with one another – drawn together through the words and actions of Jesus- and enabled through the continuing outpouring of his Holy Spirit. It is very hard to develop that fellowship just through worshipping together on Sunday mornings as it doesn’t give us enough opportunity to really get to know one another. Deepening our relationships with friends at church isn’t necessarily easy – like any form of friendship it involves risk. However, as Christians we seek to frame our commitment to one another within the gracious forgiving love of Jesus.
As a town centre church in which people don’t necessarily live close to one another – we have an extra hurdle to jump over to develop the sorts of friendships which Christian discipleship requires of us. The fellowship Sunday meals, the home groups, the retreats, helping in the café, joining the choir or bell ringers, being on the pastoral team are all ways for us to deepen our commitment to God’s commandments. As a busy church with lots going on we can sometimes too forget that God also requires of us that we sit in stillness as his feet.
If you never pop into church in the week, maybe during the novena you’ll take the opportunity. Perhaps you’ll bump into someone and have a longer chat than Sunday morning allows. Perhaps you’ll have 10 minutes of silence to pray. Or light a candle, or meet someone here who needs someone to listen to them. Whatever way we choose to engage in prayer this week, I do hope and pray that all of us in our own way will commit to praying for the gift of the Holy Spirit and the transformation of our lives.
This week then provides us with a real opportunity to re-commit ourselves to prayer on Ascension Day. Without prayer, our life together here is empty and Godless. With prayer, everything that we do together can be transformed. Enabling prayer to infuse our daily life is a practice that takes time, but one it is necessary to persist in.