9 June 2019 is Pentecost Sunday, the 50th day of our Easter journey. It marks a new season—the Sundays after Pentecost.
In his book Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church, Laurence Stookey explains that the “Day of Pentecost is about the church as the community of the Spirit, not merely about the work of the Spirit in the hearts of the individuals”.1
“O Spirit of the Living God” alludes to Acts 2, the Scripture passage often read on Pentecost Sunday. The hymn reminds us that on Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended upon the people of God and they received power. It is a beautiful prayer of intercession to God for the Holy Spirit to once again descend on the Church, that she may be renewed.
Light, fire and wind are the symbols attributed to the Holy Spirit. Using these symbols (stanzas 1 and 2), the hymn writer describes how the Holy Spirit inspires and empowers the Church to continue its mission to advance the kingdom of God.
Stanza 3 is an appeal for the Holy Spirit to grant us words that speak of truth and love, words that all people may understand so that, regardless of age and race, the children of God will be united.
Stanza 4 concludes the prayer with an abiding significance of our Easter journey. To fully appreciate this journey is to understand the three significant events of the Resurrection on Easter day, the Ascension on the 40th day and Pentecost 10 days after. We therefore believe in the Resurrection (Easter), and that Christ is present in us (Ascension) and through us by the Holy Spirit (Pentecost).
The hymn reflects Stookey’s explanation of what Pentecost Sunday means—it calls us to sing a prayer for the Church to be open to the Holy Spirit’s work not only as individuals, but as a community. Individually, we have to be willing to be counter cultural as the hymn exhorts. Collectively, we can cultivate a spirit of unity in practising the resurrection as Christ lives in us, as we work out our faith through the gifts and power of the Holy Spirit.
O Spirit of the Living God (The United Methodist Hymnal, #539)
O Spirit of the living God,
thou light and fire divine,
descend upon thy church once more,
and make it truly thine.
Fill it with love and joy and power,
with righteousness and peace;
till Christ shall dwell in human hearts,
and sin and sorrow cease.
Blow, wind of God! With wisdom blow
until our minds are free
from mists of error, clouds of doubt,
which blind our eyes to thee.
Burn, winged fire! Inspire our lips
with flaming love and zeal,
to preach to all thy great good news,
God’s glorious commonweal.
Teach us to utter living words
of truth which all may hear,
the language all may understand
when love speaks loud and clear;
till every age and race and clime
shall blend their creeds in one,
and earth shall form one family
by whom thy will is done.
So shall we know the power of Christ
who came this world to save;
so shall we rise with him to life
which soars beyond the grave;
and earth shall win true holiness,
which makes thy children whole;
till, perfected by thee, we reach
creation’s glorious goal!
Words: Henry Hallam Tweedy (1868–1953)
Music: FORREST GREEN, Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872–1958). Alternatively, KINGSFOLD (UMH 606), which might be more fitting if the hymn is sung as a prayer of intercession.
1 Laurence Stookey, Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2007), 75.
Judith Laoyan-Mosomos is the Director for Worship and Church Music at the Methodist School of Music, and a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.
Picture by mrs.kohanova/Bigstock.com