Archive for May, 2013

Pentecost: And You Were There!

May 20, 2013

She always felt better when she could be with his friends. True, all of them except the young one, John, had deserted him in the end. But she understood that. She’d been afraid too. And she wasn’t even in immediate danger from the Romans like they were. In any case, he had told her just before he died, “Behold your son.” And John, “Behold your mother.” So, clearly, he wanted her to be part of them.

 She really would have preferred to stay in Olivet which is at least a little distance from where it all happened. But, as they gathered there, it was clear that Jerusalem was where he had wanted to go, and Jerusalem was where they must re-assemble as well. So, they crept in, over the course of a couple of days….individually, sometimes two by two…and began meeting in that same upper room where they had celebrated Passover.

 Now, it was the Feast of Weeks, fifty days after the ceremony of the barley sheaf during Passover. It had originally been a harvest festival, marking the beginning the offering of the first fruits. She had always loved its celebration as a child! And so had Jesus. She accepted their invitation to be together that morning. There were other women there in addition to his brothers and, of course, the Twelve (and they were 12 again now, with the addition of Matthias – who had, in any case, never been far from their assembly.)

 They had just begun to dance…and sing the Hallel – “Hallelujah! Give praise you servants of the Lord; praise the Name of the Lord” Psalm 113:1 – when the wind picked up. It first whistled and then howled through the streets of the old city. And, even though they had been careful to secure the door, suddenly the shutters rattled and blew open. Strangely, there was no rain or fog as one might expect with the wind, but sunshine – bright glimpses of it, illuminating every face around their make-shift “altar table.” But they were too caught up in their praise dance to worry about open windows now! And the volume of their singing only increased over the noise of the wind:

 “Let the name of the Lord be blessed! Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your Name give glory! How can I repay the Lord for all the good things he has done for me? I will lift up the cup of salvation…Praise the Lord, all you nations; laud him all your people!” (Psalm 113-117 passim)

 It was their custom, during the Feast of Weeks (or Pentecost) to gather the poor and the strangers, as well as the priests and Levites, for the great communal meal which was the highpoint of this great agricultural feast. It was a way of recognizing their solidarity as people of the Covenant, across all the natural divisions of life. And so, people in the streets were from all over the Mediterranean world. But their racial and ethnic diversity was no barrier to understanding God’s praise that day! She had no idea how it happened, but no matter in what language God’s praise was being spoken or sung, everyone heard it. Everyone “got it!” All of them, from east to west, from the different traditions, ethnic Jews and converts.

 And, when the praises began to abate, Mary saw Peter slowly walk to the open window and, flanked by the other Eleven, he said, “People of Judea, and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you…and listen to what I say…” (Acts 2:14)

 Well, that may not be exactly how it happened on the first Pentecost. But it must have been something like that.  Clearly, something momentous must have happened to transform that ragtag group of frightened disciples into missionaries and evangelists. Several things happened, of course, to do that…in addition to the miracle of Pentecost.

 Their experiences of the Risen Christ, perhaps particularly the one we heard about in the gospel today – the so-called “Johannine Pentecost” from the Gospel of John, with Jesus breathing on them and saying “Receive the Holy Spirit” and empowering them to forgive sins…or to withhold forgiveness. And then, gradually, their discovery of gifts in each other; gifts such as Paul would catalogue years later in his First Letter to the Corinthians:

 “Wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miraculous works, prophecy, discernment, various kinds of tongues and their interpretation.” (I Corinthians 12:4-11). Those were the kind of qualities they had seen in Jesus, but now began to see in one another! Clearly, they were meant to do the kinds of works he had done…and to do, perhaps, even greater works…as he had promised. What are those works for us today?

 Well, in a few moments we will be confirming about 20 young people. Or rather, they will be confirming themselves – confirming the vows which were once taken on their behalf at Baptism…making those promises themselves. And, as Bishop, I will say to them, “Young members of the body of Christ, we invite you to join us in the work of healing. We cannot give you a perfect world, but we can welcome you into the work of making it whole. We ask you to join us in a mature commitment to Christ, seeking to treat every person with dignity, to care for God’s creation, and to witness to the good news of Christ’s love and forgiveness.”

 Healing and wholeness…maturity…treating people with dignity…caring for Creation…witnessing to love and forgiveness. That’s what Jesus did. That’s what his first disciples did. And it is precisely what we are called to do today. Of course, we can’t do it on our own and that’s why we will be praying for these young people (and ourselves) today. When I lay hands on them, I will pray, “Strengthen, O Lord, these your servants with your Holy Spirit; empower them for your service, and sustain them all the days of their life.”

 I believe God will answer that prayer…in their lives and in the lives of all of us.

 And it all started on Pentecost! “Hail thee, festival day! Blest day that are hallowed forever, day when the Holy Spirit shone in the world with God’s grace!” Amen!