In the 2019 Prayer Book, the Day of Pentecost, or Whitsunday, is one of the few days in the calendar (along with Christmas, Easter Day, and Holy Saturday) that has two Collects of the Day to choose from. This is not entirely unprecedented. In pre-reformation history, different collects existed for different masses to be held at different times of the day. In the development of the Anglican Prayer Book tradition, additional collects have been drawn in, and Pentecost (and its subsequent days) is one of those days that has attracted more than one collect to celebrate it.
But in the 1662 Prayer Book, there is only one:
GOD, who as at this time didst teach the hearts of thy faithful people, by the sending to them the light of thy Holy Spirit: Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgement in all things, and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort; through the merits of Christ Jesus our Saviour, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the same Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.
This is essentially identical to the first collect in our book:
O God, who on this day taught the hearts of your faithful people by sending to them the light of your Holy Spirit: Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things, and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
What we have here is, I think, a little different from the focus that modern evangelicals normally take on the Pentecost account. Typically today we link the term “pentecostal” to the miraculous gift of speaking in tongues, and the the powerful “move” of the Holy Spirit in the life of Christ’s Church. But this collect redirects that to a particular focus. We are not simply celebrating a spiritual gift, we are celebrating the spiritual fruit that results from that gift. The speaking in many languages was not the point of Pentecost; the point of Pentecost was the preaching of the Gospel to all nations. Using multiple languages was simply a necessary means under the circumstances of the moment.
So let’s break down this collect a little bit.
O God, who on this day taught the hearts of your faithful people
Think back to the Gospel of St. John, and what Jesus taught about the Spirit in chapters 14-16. There he introduces us to the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, who would lead the apostles “into all truth.” This is a teaching work, something that often gets missed when one gets caught up in the subject of charismata – supernatural charismatic gifts of the Spirit in a post-1900 Pentecostal context.
by sending to them the light of your Holy Spirit:
In Acts 2, the Spirit descended upon the apostles like tongues of flame. We tend to talk about “being on fire for the Lord”, and the burning zeal of evangelism, more often than we talk about that flame being a source of light. This collect reminds us of an interpretive approach that Pentecostalism sometimes is prone to miss: the gift of the Holy Spirit unto the people of God is about enlightenment, teaching, receiving knowledge… as Jeremiah prophesied, they will all “know the Lord.”
Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things,
Having “a right judgement” is biblical wisdom language. It refers to the ability to make right, or good, decisions based upon knowledge of God’s Law. This is very much like the Old Testament Pentecost, which celebrated the giving of the Law of Moses at Mount Sinai. People were to know that Law, and keep it, and that was wisdom. But in the New Covenant from Christ, we receive the Law of Christ not on tablets of stone, but written on our hearts by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The New Pentecost is similar to, but infinitely better than, the Old Pentecost. By the gift of the Holy Spirit, we can know Christ and follow in his ways. This collect directs us to pray for that very walk.
and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort;
Worship is never far from biblical and liturgical injunctions. We are to rejoice in God, specifically here in the Spirit’s “comfort.” This is a reference to the Spirit being called the Comforter (or Helper in the ESV translation) in John chapters 14, 15, and 16. The Greek word behind this is παρακλετε, paraclete, which can also be rendered Advocate, Mediator, or Intercessor. This word can be used in a courtroom setting – one who aids someone else’s legal defense – but it is unclear how particular the biblical use of this word was intended to be. The Holy Spirit helps us in many ways, after all, not just in pleading our innocence-in-Christ before the Father.
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The collect ends as most do, acknowledging the fullness of the holy Trinity.