Last week my wrist-watch broke. To begin with I thought it was just the battery but no, its time was up …….and I was anticipating a few days of not knowing what time it was! Fortunately, I remembered that last Christmas I was very kindly given a new one by my sister. Knowing that I do a bit of hill walking she generously gave me one which has one or two features that she thought I might find helpful… essentially, it`s a `gadget`. It`s a stop watch; it has an alarm, an altimeter, it tells you the date, the atmospheric pressure, it has a compass… and yes, it tells the time as well! In fact it tells the time in two different time zones at once….. I was impressed!
But having said that and without a shred of ingratitude this watch is a complete mystery to me. I can`t make any sense of the instructions and what I`m finding very hard to get used to is the absence of a clock face. Yes, I know they`ve been around for decades but it`s the first time I`ve had a digital watch with just the numbers to look at… and so I can`t just glance at it… I have to look at it and think “Ah, so that`s what time it is”. So yes, this watch tells me the time… but it tells it differently… and again in two different time zones.
Now, on that first Day of Pentecost …..at nine o`clock in the morning, the disciples caused a bit of a stir…. Everybody thought they were drunk; because they started behaving `out of time….` They behaved as if it were nine o`clock in the evening… as if it were `party time`! But Peter stands up and tells the people that they can`t tell the time. No, all the fuss tells you that this is God`s time… the time he promised a long time ago … it`s what the Prophet Joel called `the last days`.
Now, I`d never spotted this before but essentially we`re being told that the coming of the Holy Spirit tells us what time it is. The coming of the Holy Spirit marks the beginning of God`s re-creation of his world. And the simplest way of understanding this I think, is if we think again about how we understand the Resurrection.
So our standard way of looking at it is to say, “Well resurrection is what happened to Jesus then…. And it gives us a clue as to what we hope will happen to us… eventually”….. at what we call the end of time. But our Scriptures actually give us a different picture. Time and again, they talk of this resurrection life beginning NOW. That this thing that`s supposed to happen at the END of time….. has somehow come rushing up to meet us… and that we get a taste, a foretaste of all of this here and now.
And so we get a very different way of understanding the Christian life don`t we? Instead of as it were, `waiting around for the end` ….Resurrection begins now. This is why St. Paul says, ” You have died and your life is hid with Christ in God”. (Colossians 3.3)
And St. James says that those who have come to faith in Christ are what he calls “a kind of first fruits of his creatures”. (James 1.18) Essentially he`s saying that a new age has begun…. We`ve entered a different time zone. And this is the point… Authentic Christian faith is going to feel rather like living in two time zones….. with two very distinct understandings of the world and how it`s unfolding.
So one will tell you that it`s all winding down…. It`ll all end in tears (with a bang or a whimper!) but the other is the vision of the Book of Revelation and God`s promise to renew his creation. And it`s because he knows that we will experience this tension that Christ promises us his Holy Spirit.
In our Gospel reading he says, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever”. (John 14.16) But if we look very closely at this promise we`ll see there`s a lot more to it. You see the problem is that our English Translation fails to do justice to what Jesus actually says…. Because in the Greek language it doesn`t say `forever`. It actually says, “he will give you another Advocate, to be with you into the age” or into the new age. The difference in language is crucial isn`t it? “He will be with you forever” is fine as far as it goes… But “He will be with you into the new age” has a dynamic and expansive feel to it.
And curiously, this phrase “into the new age” is repeated throughout John`s Gospel.
And when we turn to the Letter to the Hebrews we`re told Christians are those who have “tasted the heavenly gift …and have shared in the Holy Spirit …and have tasted the goodness of the word of God …and the powers of the age to come”. (Hebrews 6.4-5) In other words, the presence, the gifts and the strength of the Holy Spirit are all given; not so that we can have some kind of thrill or the opportunity to consider ourselves a `cut above the rest` in Christian terms.
No, when we talk of the Holy Spirit… we`re talking about being let in on what time it is… And we`re saying that we…. yes, even WE are being equipped for life in this new time zone… the Kingdom of God.
And what does it look like? Well think for a moment of the Beatitudes…
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you
and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven,
for in the same way they persecuted the prophets
who were before you. (Matthew 5.3-12)
One of the best ways of understanding this teaching is to realise that these Beatitudes (as we call them)… these `blessed attitudes`… are the direction that you and your life will be taken as you surrender to the Holy Spirit. For the coming of the Holy Spirit says, “It`s time that life was lived in this way.”
From the earliest days we have been taught to claim the promise of Christ and pray… “Come Holy Spirit” so that we know what time it is. Christians tell the time ……differently.