Whitsun homily by Revd Peter van Breda

When we observe the seven candles burning at the altar we are reminded of the twelve tongues of fire that appeared and rested on the heads of the disciples and women on this day 2,000years ago.

The inner nature and gesture of the ever-upward striving flame is the same for each candle. Each candle though burns and radiates its own flaming light, each candle is we can see different. It is equally true to say that all the single flames reach upwards do share a common being, a common base and origin.

We can imagine that the flames that appeared and shone on the heads of the disciples  were both the same but also different. Each disciple was separate and individual.  Each had his own distinct and particular character. On the other hand these Whitsun flames arose out of the same common sphere of the world of spirit.

Like the disciples we too are different in many ways. We don’t all come out of separate spiritual worlds, we share a common heavenly origin. What is it that makes us so different, a great deal is the obvious answer?  In short we can say that the differences lie often in what we take up destiny-wise here on earth and what other earthly influences have coloured our lives. It is though with wonder that we can observe that when we come to share real fundamental ideas together we sense we can find common ground. Seemingly there is a world of ideas which belongs to us all and which we can access collectively. Maybe the one person wants to express his way of grasping a question in a particular manner, another brings a slightly contrasting slant, but in the end we can experience with a little effort that the living world of true ideas  is universal, never the possession of any one person.

This understanding offers us a great possibility to establish harmony on earth and in the social life. We strive to live and also to learn out of the same golden content. In principle we should be able to find common ground. Strangely we don’t seem to manage this very well at all, as a humanity publicly and privately we spend a great deal of our time arguing our strongly held points of view. We often allow our suspected differences to boil over into violent war scenarios. What is it then that separates us most, why if we all are born out the same world of spirit do we carry so much enmity? There is a very strange answer to this question, at least at first. We all carry a spiritual common goal and it is this goal which initially separates us. Here is the crunch. Because we all desire to be free independent human beings we encounter hurdles. It is this central inborn ideal which in a strange way separates us and can be observed constantly dividing people all around the world. To become a free independent person we tend, on the road to establishing our own personal selfhood to be if not egocentric, at least self-occupied.  Each separate individual has his or her rightful place but where I am you cannot be and so on, and what is mine isn’t yours and so and so on. On the other hand each single person is needed to create community, to create a harmonious social life. As human beings we are challenged to deepen our sense of self but not at the expense of our brothers and sisters. The ongoing striving towards the fulfilment of this goal is fraught with problems but it is possible. This is always a challenge, a two-edged sword.

The Holy Spirit who is both the spirit of truth and the spirit of peaceful co-existence is there for us as a guide and inspirer. In the Service we celebrate there is a unique potential for us to grow in both the realm of developing an ethical free individuality but equally to create community together with others. We arrive on a Sunday as different personalities from contrasting backgrounds and pasts. During the course of the evolving service though we grow in wider consciousness, we experience that we are inwardly working out of the same golden background. We begin to commune with the beings that come towards us but also with each other. Our differences at the altar fade away as we become slowly but surely a community, a community of striving Christ-endowed individualities. My neighbours like myself have in the end the same strivings, they share in the similar struggle in life to become truly human. We can inwardly begin to imagine that the shining flames of Whitsun rest on the heads of all who strive in His name. Together with the inspirational presence of the Holy Spirit we may grasp again and again the  potential given to us in our sacraments to become a Community of Christians; made up as we are of different but in essence similar human beings with the same goal, to serve the aims of the spirit world.

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