Whitsunday by John Keble*
Today being Pentecost Sunday (or Whitsunday as it is known in the Anglican calendar), I thought it would be fitting to share a poem that highlights the significance of this holy day. The celebration of the Holy Spirit's being poured out after Jesus' ascension corresponds to the Jewish festival of Shavuot, which commemorates the giving of the Mosaic law.
When God of old came down from Heaven,
In power and wrath He came;
Before His feet the clouds were riven,
Half darkness and half flame:
Around the trembling mountain's base
The prostrate people lay;
A day of wrath and not of grace;
A dim and dreadful day.
But when he came the second time,
He came in power and love,
Softer than gale at morning prime
Hovered His holy Dove.
The fires that rushed on Sinai down
In sudden torrents dread,
Now gently light, a glorious crown,
On every sainted head.
Like arrows went those lightnings forth
Winged with the sinner's doom,
But these, like tongues, o'er all the earth
Proclaiming life to come:
And as on Israel's awe-struck ear
The voice exceeding loud,
The trump, that angels quake to hear,
Thrilled from the deep, dark cloud;
So, when the Spirit of our God
Came down His flock to find,
A voice from Heaven was heard abroad,
A rushing, mighty wind.
Nor doth the outward ear alone
At that high warning start;
Conscience gives back th' appalling tone;
'Tis echoed in the heart.
It fills the Church of God; it fills
The sinful world around;
Only in stubborn hearts and wills
No place for it is found.
To other strains our souls are set:
A giddy whirl of sin
Fills ear and brain, and will not let
Heaven's harmonies come in.
Come Lord, Come Wisdom, Love, and Power,
Open our ears to hear;
Let us not miss th' accepted hour;
Save, Lord, by Love or Fear.
~from The Christian Year, 1827
*John Keble was a member of the Oxford movement that was so influential in the poetry of Christina Rossetti and Gerard Manley Hopkins. You can read more about him on Wikipedia to start, and then toggle over to the Victorian Web for a more scholarly treatment.
Photo: Stained Glass Window, St. Michael's & All Angels Parish Church in Haworth, West Yorkshire