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Sermon 19 May

Saint Margaret’s

Anglican Church

Budapest, Hungary

Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:25-35, 37; Romans 8:22-

27; John 15:26-27 & 16:4b-15

Devout Anglicans will know that today’s

festival day, Pentecost, was known for

centuries in the British Isles and elsewhere as

Whitsun or Whitsunday. I suppose there is

nothing to prevent us calling it Whitsunday even now, though Pentecost has become

the far more common term, probably because it is favoured by the majority of other

Christians worldwide, the Roman Catholics and Lutherans, for instance. Why the day

was ever called Whitsunday in the first place remains a matter of some conjecture.

Most scholars think it harkens back to the liturgical colour of the day in earlier

centuries, namely, white, making the day in effect White Sunday, if you will.

Could be. Consider that, while Baptisms in the earliest centuries of Christianity were

reserved for the Vigil of Easter or Easter Day itself, Pentecost gradually came to be

preferred in Northern Europe, and especially in Britian, probably because the weather

would be more clement and predictable fifty days after Easter; and the little ones

presented for Baptism would be less likely to catch their death of pneumonia on the

very day of their Christening. And since white is definitely the colour for Baptisms, it

is plausible that for this reason the Day of Pentecost became Whitsunday. We do not

have any Baptisms scheduled for today here at Saint Margaret’s; and so, I am wearing

liturgically correct red vestments. Yet, somehow Red Sunday does not have the ring

to it of Whitsunday.

Now, a minority of scholars going back to the Middle Ages disagree with this origin

story for the name Whitsunday; claiming instead that the whit of the word is a Middle

English variant of the word wisdom. We still use the word wit or wits in a similar

sense today, generally referring to either the ability to express oneself cleverly or

quickly or both, especially if you have your wits about you. Not to mention that

dozens if not hundreds of books have Wit and Wisdom baked into their titles,

everything from the Wit and Wisdom of Queen Elizabeth to the Wit and Wisdom of

Paddington Bear. Correct or not, I favour this etymology for the word Whitsunday.

Perhaps we should call it instead Wisdom Sunday. For, in a very real sense it is Divine

Wisdom we are celebrating.

After all, wisdom itself is one of the most ancient of attributes ascribed to God or

specifically to the Spirit of God. Indeed, Holy Wisdom remains as common a name forchurch buildings in the Orthodox world as is, say, Christ Church among Anglicans.

Think of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, or Istanbul, if you prefer; arguably the most

important Christian temple or church for over a thousand years. Come to think of it,

the Church of Divine Wisdom would well be an apt name or metaphor for the Church

universal itself. For, not only is wisdom something to be said about God; wisdom, like

Love, is what God is, God personified; the Spirit of God in which we share even in our

most foolish of moments, of which alas humankind always has a surplus.

So, divine Wisdom is the Divine Self; “the Spirit of truth,” of which our Lord speaks in

our account this day from the Gospel of John, “the Spirit of truth who comes from the


” the Spirit which our Lord also sends to us. In the divinely ordered scheme of

things, in the plan of salvation, in divine Wisdom, Christ has taken our flesh upon

himself and so affirmed our humanity. In the Incarnation, God is made flesh; and in

Pentecost we are made Spirit and given a share in the Spirit of Divine Wisdom; if we

embrace the truth of it. In Pentecost, the Incarnation comes full circle, and Christ now

lives on in the world through us and through the Spirit which is in us. This is the true

meaning of Whitsunday; it seems to me. The giving of the Spirit at Pentecost

completes the mystery of the Incarnation and brings us fulfillment not only in our

humanity but in our sharing in the Divine.

Given the “whole estate of Christ’s Church and the world” as we find it today, a

sharing in the Divine, a sharing in Wisdom, is surely what we sorely need. I can think

of few times in history, ancient of contemporary, more in need of the Spirit of truth

than our world today, a world filled with all-too-human perversity and evil, a time of

upheaval and folly on a massive scale all across the globe. Rather than the sevenfold

gifts of the Spirit, gifts of fortitude, knowledge, fear of the Lord, piety, counsel,

understanding, and wisdom itself, we encounter everywhere mendacity, corruption in

high places and low, distrust, avarice, stupidity masquerading as cleverness, violence,

and cynicism. Come, Holy Spirit, indeed.

And yet… And yet, in spite of all that, we foolish Christians, as susceptible as anyone

to foolhardiness and folly, celebrate this day the Wisdom of God; celebrate this day

the hope which is a part of wisdom and spirit as Paul reminds us in our second

Reading today from his Letter to the Romans.

“In hope we were saved.” Pentecost

allows us still to live Christ in the world today, in spite of the chaos and despair

around us.

Perhaps the best proof of this reality, if proof is the right word, is the fact that we are

here today celebrating the Spirit of Truth and Wisdom, along with generations of

other Christians, on this 103,000th, give or take, Sunday after Pentecost. In the Spirit,

Christ lives on in and through us; but only if we let him; only if we live the Divine

Wisdom and Truth of this remarkable day. No fake news for us; only the Good News

of the Gospel. For, if the Pentecost of centuries ago marked the beginning or birth of

the Church, as we so often say it did, Pentecost today must mark and celebrate theSpirit of Christ alive and at work in our world still today, on this newest of Pentecost

Days, this Whit or White Sunday. This Wisdom Sunday. So Come, Holy Spirit, we pray,

Come Holy Spirt, fill the hearts of your faithful people;

and kindle in them once again the fire of your love.


The Rev. Canon Dr. Frank Hegedűs

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