On the day of Pentecost described in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, the Holy Spirit transformed a diverse gathering of people - many of them drawn from distant lands (Acts 2:5-11). In February of this year, thousands of Christians from every region of the world had a similar experience - a Pentecost experience - while participating in the Assembly of the World Council of Churches held in southern Brazil.
The prayers and songs of the Ninth Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Porto Alegre are still ringing in our ears, and are present in our hearts. We left the Assembly with the sure knowledge that our prayer had been heard: "God, in your Grace, Transform the World."
In the power of the same Spirit that came upon the disciples at the first Pentecost we pledged ourselves in Porto Alegre: to continue the quest for Christian unity; to find the means of co-operating with one another in mission and service; and to live together in peace, especially through our renewed commitment to the ecumenical Decade to Overcome Violence (2001-2010).
As we become aware of the need to improve the quality of our relationships, as we endeavour to become relevant and credible in our ecumenical life, and as we strive to act together in service and mission, the event of the first Pentecost encourages us to open ourselves once again to the Spirit that was manifest on that day, when all those present became aware of the new community to which they now belonged. Their new experience was shown in shared enthusiasm, and in a sense of new identity and belonging to Christ and to one another in the power of the Spirit. They expressed this in diverse ways in accord with their own cultures and contexts.
It was also within this Pentecost experience that the word "koinonia" (communion, participation) appears in Acts 2:42. We read: "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship (koinonia), to the breaking of bread and to prayer." Thus those first Christians shared a communion in faith and in life.
This is the new life of communion which comes also to us as a wind of change, changing our language, the ways in which we communicate and relate to one another and to the world. May Pentecost this year be a time of new beginnings for us: a time of renewing our commitment to God and to each other and a time of strengthening our common witness as we offer ourselves as servants to carry out God's mission.
The promise and challenge of Acts 1:8 remain for us today: "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
Pentecost provides a graphic portrayal of the two forces driving the Christian movement forward: the Spirit and the Word. This power comes to believers as the gift of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:33). The coming of the Holy Spirit brings the community of the faithful into being and at the same time equips them to communicate the message of salvation. And the coming of the Spirit clearly points to the inclusive character of God's grace. The Holy Spirit, who had spoken through the prophets, had already declared this in advance: "Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old people will dream dreams, your young people will see visions..." (Joel 2:28 // 3:1 New Jerusalem Bible).
Let us rejoice that the presence of the Holy Spirit is God's gift to the whole church at Pentecost and let us respond together to be Christ's witnesses together to the ends of the earth.
God of Grace,
come to us, come and journey with us,
so that we may journey on in your grace and peace.
Fill us with hope, so that we can break down barriers.
Inspire us on our ecumenical journey,
enabling encounter and dialogue to take place.
Send your Holy Spirit to strengthen us in our prophetic role
of proclaiming the freedom you bring.
May your Holy Spirit be a gentle breeze when we need consolation and security,
but let it be a strong wind when we are too comfortable
and ought to speak out.
May your life-giving peace enter into our bodies and be expressed in action,
in peace among individuals, among churches and church leaders,
among religions and between the nations and states.
May your world-transforming grace inspire us to join hands
and show forth the freedom that your love gives.
Shower your blessings upon us as we journey on,
proclaiming the good news of justice, service and acceptance.
The Presidents of the World Council of Churches
Patriarch Abune Paulos, Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church
Rev. Dr Simon Dossou, Protestant Methodist Church in Benin
Rev. Dr Soritua Nababan, Protestant Christian Batak Church (HKBP), Indonesia
Rev. Dr Ofelia Ortega, Presbyterian-Reformed Church in Cuba
Rev. Dr Bernice Powell Jackson, United Church of Christ , United States of America
Mr John Taroanui Doom, Maòhi Protestant Church, Tahiti
Archbishop Dr Anastasios of Tirana and All Albania, Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania
Dr Mary Tanner, Church of England, Great Britain