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Archive for the ‘Pentecost’ Category

Pentecost 2019

Pentecost: the denouement of the Easter season, the answer to all our questions about the resurrection, the church, the mission. Do you think?

The background to this story has Jewish roots in a harvest festival, Shavuot, later to be associated with the giving of the law on Mt. Sinai. The reading of the Law would have been accompanied by the sober reminder that at the harvest festival, those who had been landless, homeless, and hungry, would be grateful for their unearned blessings and restoration. And that those still in the chains of hunger or poverty would receive generosity and restoration in terms of land, a sense of belonging, and hope. So at this festival, these Jewish disciples would identify the mission of Jesus with the expectations of a holy society. It is interesting that this story of the reception of the Holy Spirit would be grounded in the very concerns of both the Law and of Jesus around justice, hospitality, and generosity.

At the beginning of the narrative we hear that the disciples are again sequestered in one place. We might remember that whenever they gathered in this way, Jesus has surprised them. This time, the Spirit bursts into their inward looking conversation and throws open the doors of the room. Fire and wind, images of exodus and Elijah, liberation and challenge. Suddenly they remember why they even came to know each other. From their incarceration by fear and lack of focus, they are pulled outside themselves, drunk with the presence of the Christ who has reached out to the whole world from the restriction of the cross to the freedom of the resurrection: Jesus, remembered as the Beloved teacher, transformed into the wild Spirit that severs the chains of oppression and alienation.

Peter, the spokesperson, finds he is no longer afraid of otherness, but welcomes interaction with those not of his language, not of his culture, not of his religion. In finally understanding the freedom offered by Jesus and fulfilled by this event of the Spirit, the blindfold falls from his eyes. He now sees that all people are worthy of freedom, of peace. All people are worthy of love, of a seat at the banquet of creation, this blue and green palace made by God.

I imagine that the disciples now understood that Jesus’ death and resurrection were release from limitation. I imagine they were surprised increasingly by how this explosive experience would bend the fortresses of prejudice in their minds and would cause them to dream of a world only prophesied about. I picture them as dizzy with insight and so full of the power of the Spirit that they were compelled to share this gift of freedom from the shuttered mind, the social barriers. As David danced with the return of the Ark of the Covenant, I imagine them dancing and singing as they discovered the power of Jesus’ spirit with them still, his compassion. But most of all, they would understand his revelation of the desire of God for all people to awaken to the holiness within creation, the holiness that would open us to become communities where the poor don’t simply get remainders — scraps from the table — but where poverty is always being healed.

I think the questions brought to Pentecost then, in that isolated room, are still with us. What do we want from resurrection? What are the messages we see every day about how we are to live? How are we are being freed to rethink our convictions, our opinions? How is the Spirit freeing us to be generous and welcoming, not tolerant of difference, but energized by it?

These are not rhetorical questions. These questions will define which Christian communities thrive and which become holy relics. Jesus is with us when we are the community in motion, the community that can speak the gospel of justice and liberation in many languages, with many cultures. Jesus sits at tables of strangers and engages in story telling and community activism with many partners. Salvation belongs to those who bring hope, who share lives, who act and speak with courage. Peace comes with the awareness that we are each a tiny but important life, living for the community of God, a peaceful, abundant earth, one family throughout the world.

Seeds at the Cross to New Wine

Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 

— John 12:24 —

But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And as for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. 

— 1 Corinthians 15: 35-38 —

These two passages offer very significant clues for thinking about the season from Good Friday to Pentecost. They help us move away from literalism to a rich understanding of Jesus the Christ and of how his resurrection is a promise for us and for all.

On Good Friday, the first disciples were overwhelmed with the awareness that their teacher and friend, their mentor, was in fact as human as they. He died in a particularly gruesome and humiliating fashion. No lightning bolts came to save him. He died with us, sharing even fear and pain with us. For me, this has always been an important insight, a reality that demands that we are born and that we die: some of us easily, some of us horribly. Nothing can save us. We are designed for death. But maybe we are also designed for resurrection!

When family and friends first encountered the risen Messiah, you will remember that they did not recognize him. He had been transformed. It is in relationship that his nature was revealed to followers, sometimes immediately, as in the garden with Mary; sometimes later, after he left the dinner and prayers in Emmaus. Although his presence seemed concrete and corporeal, he was able to appear and disappear mysteriously. All the post-resurrection stories happen only with his followers. There is no mention of any encounters with strangers, enemies, or other friends. John Dominic Crossan (Resurrecting Easter) has pointed out that the Eastern Church maintained its commitment to the idea of a corporate resurrection as the important idea, whereas the Western Church became focussed on personal salvation. Of course, both belong together. It is not possible to conceive of isolation in the company of Christ. Everything happens in community, but it also leads to individual experience. 

Which brings us to the story of the Ascension, a story that is limited by a shift in our knowledge base and the literalism of our era. Buckminster Fuller calls the whole story into question with his famous perspective that in a round world, there is neither up nor down. So if not an up and down movement, than what do we make of this tale? I believe the story of the ascension has everything to do with grief and empowerment. 

Many people who are grieving say quietly that they have either seen their loved one or that they experience their presence. There is a Netflix series call “After Life” about a man struggling grimly with his grief, so much that he views videos of his deceased wife, over and over. Eventually, he is able to move beyond his personal pain to acknowledge that the world still exists and instead of fighting it or hiding from it, he can be a force of compassion and wisdom. 

The ascension story might be about the disciples releasing their grief and their personal sense of disempowerment in order to become the church. Unless the seed falls into the ground…. And that seed is the misdirected hopes, the keenness of feeling abandoned, the confusion around the choices that those first disciples must have felt. Also, the time had come to reassess who Jesus could be for them in the present, rather than clinging to the beloved leader of the past. 

One trajectory for this story is to understand the ascension as the movement from Jesus the mortal, the man, to Jesus, filled with the Spirit of the Holy One, as the Christ; Jesus, the one anointed to show the world that death is a gateway not an abyss. The Christ who — through his transformation from the Beloved to the Christ — becomes for us the sign of inclusivity, and who combines all the knowledge of the suffering and joy of humanity with the cosmic wisdom of the Spirit of the Holy One. 

Jesus, the man of history, would have been an influence but would not be such a world-shaking experience without his transformation. The disciples could not have become the church without turning away from gazing into the skies, waiting for an unrealistic dream. Instead, they look at each other, at their world, at the circumstances of their lives, and they begin to plan their next steps as the followers of Jesus, now the Christ. 

On the day of Pentecost, the story of the gathering of the disciples, for the first time as the Body of Jesus, transforms them also into the body of the risen Christ, no longer limited by other knowledge, or false hope. For themselves and for the witnesses, they become people who — like Jesus himself — reach out to all people, regardless of status or ethnicity. They are filled with the wine of vision and new hope. They come to believe that they have not been abandoned at all but, like the earthly Jesus, they have been anointed for the work of transforming others with compassion, hope, and healing. 

They no longer look like those first fishermen. They are no longer seeds planted in hope, but food for a hungry world.

They discover abilities they did not know they had. They become orators, motivational speakers, powerful in prayer and in the radical messages of acceptance and the destiny of humanity. The gospels certainly are about love, but about a tough love, one that has endured suffering, that has experienced the pain of becoming new, that has had to leave the past behind to grasp for an awe-filled, unbelievable promise. Through these disciples Pentecost calls: “Follow him with us and discover that death is a gate and there is so much more to life than we can know in one lifetime.”

Pentecost is the promise that if we open our minds and our emotions, we too can be filled with the new wine of promise and the courage to live our lives with openness and authenticity. Pentecost is a story about finding the Holy as an experience that comes for those who allow themselves to live on the other side of platitudes and vulnerability. 

“God loves us already and has from our very beginning. The Christian life is not about believing or doing what we need to believe or do so that we can be saved. Rather, it is about seeing what is already true: that God loves us already and then beginning to live in this relationship. It is about becoming conscious of and intentional about a deepening relationship with God.” (Marcus Borg)

At the heart of the institutional church, the Holy Spirit still burns and stirs, no matter how deeply we may from time to time have embedded it in stone and statutes. The wild Spirit will break out and demand freedom and justice, hope and healing, compassion and vision beyond our knowing. 

And from the late Judy Cannato (Radical Amazement), mystic and believer:

Our knowing what we know is an act of self transcendence, and our acting upon what we have learned will lead to greater consciousness still. . . . . We must accept accept the power and grace that is in the emerging universe. . . .This is our moment. Let us live connected and in love. . . .

The Spirit of Change and Hope

It is the anniversary of Pentecost, 50 days after Easter or, possibly, even many years later. The narrative is set at the time of the Jewish festival of Shavuot, one of three agrarian festivals. It also became the time when people celebrated the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai. This is important because it gives us room to speculate about what the events in Acts want to reveal to us.

At Shavuot, the land owners would bring the first wheat harvest, which meant that the poor had the opportunity to harvest from the edges of the fields to feed themselves. The commandment of Torah was to remember the poor always because all people were poor once. So the themes of the festival were gratitude for abundance, for God’s steadfast love, and God’s justice for all. The Book of Ruth would be read to remind people that everyone was also once a stranger, an outsider, who was embraced by God. In a story in the Book of Numbers, the Spirit of the Lord falls upon seventy elders in the camp, and also two young men outside the camp to share the burden of prophecy with Moses. When the young men start to prophesy in the camp rather than in the tent of meeting, Joshua is scandalized, but Moses says to let them be.That means that God’s Spirit is not contained by the designated holy place, nor by the elders. In fact the Spirit rests where it will and cannot be contained or restrained.

This feast provides a wonderful opportunity for Luke to write about how a group of sometimes inept, poorly educated, frightened fishermen, became a force to shake the world. Our story begins with them gathered together in Jerusalem. They have probably been talking about the feast and its themes. Morning breaks and as it does, they experience the holy Spirit rushing through them reminding them of what Jesus called them to do in his name. Immediately, like the young men outside the camp, or like Ruth, they are possessed with courage and the need to speak of …what? What do they say that everyone can hear with their ears, but not all with their hearts and souls? Remember those themes of Shavuot: God’s love for all people. generosity for the poor, justice, God’s freedom to raise up and to lower. We know who would be scandalized. Anyone who prefers the needs of the comfortable to the needs of the poor; anyone who thinks people can be sorted into categories by gender, class, age, or ethnicity; anyone who thinks that having a vision of a healthy earth at peace with justice for all, is naive or misguided. Those people will complain and scoff.

But we, with those fishermen, are invited to hold the vision of Jesus like a fire leading us on, like a cleansing wind that brings fresh air behind it, We are called to speak the words of hope and promise to anyone who can hear the language of compassion and healing. We can leave the confines of the house where we have hidden. We can be all in the open with our message that welcomes and includes, that promises forgiveness for everyone: life that is more real than death.

Sometimes in the church, when we have been through a time of despair, when it seems as if there is no hope, we might want to remember that the Spirit will ignite us again. It is after all not our message but the message and the mission of Christ that matters. Everything may be remade, everything may change in what seems like the blink of an eye, But it is the Spirit who leads us and it is the Spirit who will give us the words, the courage, and the energy to work for the city of God where all are welcome.

Eucharistic Prayer, Pentecost

Presider: May  God’s life enfold our lives.
All: May the Spirit quicken our imagination.

Presider: Let us rejoice.
All: May our hearts be compassionate and strong.

Presider: Let us give thanks to God.
All: May the work of our hands be turned to healing.

Presider: Mother and Father God, we give you thanks for the gift of your Beloved, who has become for us a sign of healing and new life. Out of the Divine Self, you formed all that we are, and more that is beyond our senses. You named it Good. When we open ourselves, we are surrounded by the holiness of the creation and by your presence within us and beyond us. With the song of all creation, we raise our voices in vibrant hope,

Sanctus

(A time for quiet)

Presider: Gracious God, as a sign to us of your ever-abiding love, you called the Christ into being in Jesus. He learned and grew in Wisdom and the Spirit. He responded to you and you called him “Beloved.” He laughed and danced with the wedding guests; he healed the sick and rebuked the powerful. He stood in solidarity with the poor, the outcast, the victims of his society. He wept and he feared and he raged at injustice. In all things, he shared our lives and experienced the fullness of your Presence.

With a full heart, with insight and compassion, a woman anointed him as prophet and in recognition of his imminent death. He received her blessing and instructed us to remember her whenever the good news is told.

At supper with his friends, Jesus blessed and broke bread, offering it to them as a sign of labour and of unity. He looked at them and said, “This, my body.” Then he took a cup of wine, a sign of life and family, and said to them, “This, my blood. When you do this, do it remembering me.”

All: In Christ we are one body, one blood, one family. May this become the truth for us.

(A time for quiet)

Presider: Remembering that Jesus became the Christ for us, may the Spirit of wind and fire sweep through these gifts and through us, opening us to new vision, filling our mouths with a new language and freeing us to hear your Word again. May we connect ourselves to the Jesus of history – who was known in the past, who is revealed in our present and who awaits us in the future. May we find revealed to us the Christ of all times who greets us at every crossroads and loves us into resurrection.
All: Amen, amen, amen.