The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead

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June 2019

God in the Arts

Revd Michael Burgess for Parish Pump

Panel depicting the first Pentecost: Barnaba da Modena


Over the last years praying ‘Thy kingdom come’ has become an important part of church life for the days between Ascension and Pentecost. It has been promoted by church leaders, who have encouraged Christians to follow the pattern of Mary, the mother of our Lord, and the disciples. St Luke tells us in Acts how they gathered in an upper room to pray, while they waited for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.


It is the theme of this panel depicting the first Pentecost painted by Barnaba da Modena, a prolific Italian artist, in 1377. Here we look into that upper room and see Mary and the twelve, their hands in prayer, and the Holy Spirit descending like a dove into their lives.


The disciples had seen their Lord ascend to the Father, and they must have returned from that mount to Jerusalem expectant, but also concerned and anxious about what the future held for them. Afraid and uncertain, they devoted themselves to prayer. The artist has shown us the gift of the Holy Spirit that marks the birthday of the Church and a new day in their lives. The doors of that upper room may have been closed to the world, but the Spirit came to open them and inspire the disciples to go into that world with a new purpose and hope. The closed world of fear and anxiety was changed by their prayer and by the working of the Holy Spirit.


In the days from Ascension to Pentecost we follow that tradition of prayer. We may also be concerned and anxious about our world and our lives. The Spirit calls us to move from fear to trust. Someone calculated that the words ‘Do not be afraid’ occur 365 times in the Bible – one for the great day of Pentecost, and one for every other day in the rest of the year.

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