One of the ways that God manifests his presence is by fire. When Elijah had his showdown with the prophets of Baal, he challenged them saying; ‘The god who answers by fire – he is God.’ Then ‘the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice,’ thus confirming God’s presence with the prophet and with his people. Just before Moses received the Ten Commandments, Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire. No wonder the writer to the Hebrews says that ‘our God is a consuming fire.’
When John the Baptist speaks about the arrival of Jesus he says; ‘after me will come one more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.’ This was realised in their experience on the day of Pentecost when ‘they saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them, as all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.’ The disciples had been baptised with water and now they were being baptised with the Spirit of God who presented in the form of fire, just as he had done all those years before on Mount Sinai.
Many of us have received John’s baptism as we have been baptised with water, but can we say that we have received the baptism that Jesus promised? Do we know what it is to be baptised with the Holy Spirit and with fire? That is what we were promised and Jesus was insistent that his disciples should wait until they received this baptism with the Holy Spirit before doing anything in his name.
Today one of the most reported physical manifestations of the presence of God is the feeling of heat or fire in our bodies, but God’s presence is much more than a feeling. On the Emmaus road after the disciples had been talking with the risen Christ they say; ‘were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the scriptures to us?’ Pentecost is more than just an historical event, it is an opportunity to catch the fire, to experience and to know the real presence of God in our hearts, our minds and our bodies.
Rev. Dr. Christopher Noble – Rector
St Mary’s Stansted with Fairseat and Vigo