‘Holy Spirit as a Dove’, 18th February 2018

‘Holy Spirit as a Dove’, 18th February 2018

All Age Homily. February 18th 2018. First Sunday of Lent.

Mark 1:9-15, also Genesis 9:8-17.

As Jesus comes out of the water, the voice says: ”You are my Son, whom I am love, with whom I am well pleased.” The age of silence from God, since the days of the prophet Malachi is broken. The voice of God is heard again.

And two well known bible passages are combined in God’s words: ‘You are my Son whom I love’ – from Psalm 2, that held the promise of the Messianic King to come, who would be known as God’s Son.

”with whom I am well pleased.” from Isaiah 42 – the Suffering Servant ‘in whom God delights’.

Yet that same passage also promises that the Spirit would rest and remain upon the Servant of Yahweh (see Isaiah 42:1). Isaiah 11:v1-5 also promised the Spirit to be upon the Messianic King.

Mark shows us Jesus is the Messianic King, and the Suffering Servant equipped for his great work with the Spirit of God which was promised for the end times.

Roman Catholic theologian and preacher to the Papal Household Raniero Cantalamessa says:

‘What happened to Jesus at the beginning of his messianic activity, is repeated in turn for the Church at the beginning of its mission at Pentecost.’ (Cantalamessa, The Mystery of Pentecost, pp20-21).

The Spirit descended on Jesus after his baptism, the Spirit descended on the church at Pentecost. Here, the Spirit ‘descends on Jesus like a dove.’ Why like a dove? This is no accident, this form is a deliberate choice by the Heavenly Father. And in all four gospels the writers want to share that description of how the Spirit came. When we come to Pentecost, we often reflect upon why the Spirit comes as a wind and as tongues of fire, what that teaches us about who the Spirit is and what he does.

So, what can we learn about the Spirit descending like ‘a dove’.

Stained glass recording the Descent of the Spirit like a dove in Matthew’s Gospel.


Dove, often gives us the idea of ‘peace’. I believe, the dove has different meanings in the Bible, and these ideas, inform us, and excite us, as to who the Spirit is and therefore how he can work within us, around us or through us. The image of the Dove teaches us about Creation, Good News, Beauty, & Wild.


Creation. The first idea is creation. Genesis 1:2 ‘The Spirit of God was hovering over waters.’ The Hebrew word used to ‘hover’ is also used in Deut 32:11,  for an eagle hovering over its young. Rabbi Ben Zoma as a younger contemporary of Mark, and he quotes a rabbinic tradition from that era about Genesis:

‘the Spirit of God was brooding over the face of the waters like a dove which broods over her young but does not touch them.‘ (quoted by D.A Carson, Gospel of John, p.153).

Holy Spirit by Colleen Shay

The Spirit of God was hovering over the waters, over chaos, and the creation comes out of nothing, beauty comes, life comes. The Dove reminds us of creation. The Spirit who comes to each of us – as Jesus promises in John 7:

”Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them. But this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. ” (John 7). That Spirit within us who can bring creation, light out of darkness, beauty out of nothing, chaos removed within us.

Example of Jackie Pullinger’s ministry among addicts in Hong Kong, where many were set free from addictions. People were brought from darkness to light, beauty out of chaos.

This vision of the Spirit’s work is captured in one of the Church of England prayers set for Ash Wednesday…

Holy God,
our lives are laid open before you:
rescue us from the chaos of sin
and through the death of your Son
bring us healing and make us whole
in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

A New Age, a New Creation. Good news. Dove is a symbol of the beginning of a new age and new creation. For that we remember Noah in our OT reading (Genesis 8-9). The bird sent out two times – the bird was a dove – without success to find land, and the third and final time, it does not return.

12th-century Venetian mosaic depiction of Noah sending the dove – (Basilica San Marco, Venice, Public Domain),

A new age has began, the ark can land, a new creation. In fact the dove is a herald isn’t it – it brings the good news that things are nearly ready, with the olive leaf – and then ironically it brings the message that all is ready by not returning! New Age, New Creation. Good News. It is striking how in the first 15 verses of Mark, good news is declared four times: the beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah Mark begins, then we heard Jesus declaring he went into Galilee ”proclaiming the good news of God.” then again: the kingdom of God has come, Jesus said, repent and believe the good news.” the dove is also a symbol of good news, a new age has come, a new creation. ‘The kingdom had come near.’ As we keep reading Jesus anointed and empowered by the Spirit brings that good news, that new creation into many lives.

That is a message we can refresh ourselves about this Lent. But this is a message needed to be heard by all. The Good news – sins forgiven, hope for life beyond death, having the relationship we were always intended for with God. The Spirit seeks to bring that, and he will witness, and he will use us to witness to that new age and new creation, that good news, which the Father wants to draw all into.


Beauty. Song of Songs chapters 1 & 2 : ”How beautiful you are, my darling! Oh how beautiful! Your eyes are doves!” Later he says: ”My dove in the clefts of the rock.” And later he says: ”my darling, my dove, my flawless one.” Now I am not sure if that is how you normally speak to your wife – my dove!. Or say to your girlfriend – your eyes are doves! Maybe you should try it out.


My point is this. in that day, the dove is a symbol of beauty. Can we say the Holy Spirit is beauty? A worship song starts: ‘You are beautiful beyond description’, the hymn, ‘O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness’. The old translation of psalm 90:17 (Kings James Version) – ‘may the beauty of the Lord be upon us and establish thou the work of our hands.’ We do attribute beauty to God.

Jesus said – he would leave us and send us another Counsellor (John 14:16-17). He equates the Holy Spirit with himself. So we see what Jesus did, the Spirit would do, but also the way, the character of the Spirit, is as Jesus was. ‘The Paraclete is the presence of Jesus in his absence, while we wait his return.’ (James Dunn, Jesus and the Spirit, p.351).

Simply. We have the beautiful Spirit of Jesus within us. When we think about the beauty of what Jesus did and how he did, it encourages us, that same Spirit seeks to work within us. John said: Jesus is full of grace and truth (John 1:17).  The Spirit who works within each of us – full of beautiful grace and truth.


Finally. Wild. The image of a dove is something caged perhaps – released to fly around. Or very domestic. Very gentle. But in the psalms it seems to be a little more. David – when describing how he’d like to escape – says

”Oh that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest. I would flee far away and stay in the desert.’‘ (Psalm 55).

One suggestion is their nesting places were in cliff or other hills where it was hard to reach. Jeremiah 48 ‘be like the dove that nests on the side of the mouth of a gorge.’ And again with Noah – the dove that came back – but the dove that went, explored, searched. A minister, Ray Simpson says:

All too easy for the Church as an institution to try and tame God’s Spirit. The Bible pictures the Holy Spirit as untameable – as wind, fire or a dove. The dove was not, as we often imagine it, so domesticated that it never flies outside the comfort of a dovecot. The rock doves of the Bible flew in from the wild and back out into the wild.” (Ray Simpson, Exploring Celtic Christianity, p.122).

A dove was a wild bird. A suggestion that the dove is unpredictable at times.

To be Spirit led can be unpredictable. A Spirit led life – you may know where you begin, but who knows where you will end up. The challenge is to allow him to lead no matter where or how. Another word for all of this can be the adventure of Christian faith! To being increasingly open to all the Spirit wants to do in us, through us, around us, no matter how wild, or whatever direction…


Think of Lent. It has began. It is based upon the forty days of Jesus in the wilderness. How did those forty days begin. Mark says: ”At once the Spirit sent him out.” (1:12). Not perhaps what we would have expected the Spirit to do! Surely we’d expect after baptism for Jesus to preach, heal etc – but surprisingly, he is sent into the wilderness…

And again in Acts of the Apostles, as we read, consider how is the Spirit working – in ways we would have expected or chosen?

There was a story about some of the Celtic Christian saints. They had commitment to live fully for Christ. There were different ways they expressed that. For some that meant abandoning their homeland and going where the Lord led. They would get in their boat (a coracle usually) – often on the coast of Ireland – often row, other times just let the wind blow the sails. And where the boat landed they took it that God had led them there and off they went to proclaim the faith and witness. By this means for example, some landed in France to share again the Gospel of Christ. It shows an incredible level of trust in God leading.

But can that be the challenge for our Lent? Have we tamed the Spirit? Has he become – predictable for us – is he caged – because we choose when to involve him in the things we think we should? Instead of consciously inviting him to direct and shape our lives? What would Lent be, for us, if in these 40 days, if within our prayers – we so to speak sat in our boat – and said, ”Spirit, take me, use me, however you will?”

As we pray such a prayer, we remember the Spirit seeks to bring creation, beauty out of darkness, order out of chaos, to bring good news – so what he asks, will flow in such a direction. And we can trust – his character is beautiful because he is the Spirit of Jesus – we can trust the Spirit the one who leads.

Shall we take some moments to be still…


Revd Grant Crowe