27 May 2012
“I will pour out my Spirit upon all humankind. Your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my Spirit.” (Joel 2:28-29 from the Propers of today’s Feast Day Mass)
In the name …
Pentecost was originally a Jewish religious festival. That’s why all of those Jewish believers from around the world were in Jerusalem that Pentecost of 2,000 years ago as we read in the Acts of the Apostles. The earliest Christians stream out into the Jerusalem streets after the Holy Spirit is poured upon them and they begin to preach the gospel of Christ, and all of those far-flung people hear the gospel in their native language. They’re there for the Temple, not for the gospel. They have made this often months-long pilgrimage because Pentecost is the Jewish feast celebrating the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai. I believe that our Christian story of the choice of the day of Pentecost is based upon this older tradition. The core, the essentials, of the Jewish faith is the Mosaic Law, but for Christians the new center of the faith will be the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. The symbol of rigidity is replaced with the symbol of life and creativity. One Pentecost is replaced by another Pentecost. Hear the words of the last prayer of today’s Mass: “Grant us a new vision and a new counsel, new wisdom and fresh understanding, the revival of our piety and the renewal of our fortitude.” The thought that we are supposed to leave with today is rebirth. Because of Pentecost the church is continuously reborn: every year, every day, and through every Christian.
When the earliest church was trying to explain to herself what had happened on Pentecost, she drew upon the sacred writings of the Jewish prophets, and there she found the words of Joel. The Spirit of God will be shared out among all people, male and female, old and young, free and slave. Old, free males would have been expected for such religious authority, but Joel foretells a gift also to the unexpected: to women, to the young and to slaves. Joel wasn’t kidding when he said “all humankind.” All of us, Pentecost reminds us, share in the inspiration and authority of the Spirit. The continuous rebirth of our faith that Pentecost places at the center of Christianity comes through us, through all of us, not only the old, white males, not only the clergy, but Pentecost establishes an orthodoxy that comes through all of us so that the church remains connected and vibrant.
Since it is the Spirit working through us, then the church is no less authentic today than it was when the first Christians roamed the streets of Jerusalem preaching Christ for the very first time. The church’s legitimacy is not to be found in the past, that would be the old Pentecost of the Law written on stone. Our legitimacy is always in the present, and that is the new Pentecost of the Holy Spirit living among us. If the Holy Spirit is not as real now as she was in ancient Jerusalem, then the church has ceased to be the presence of God in the world. This is why Pentecost’s symbol is the red of fire. Fire to the ancient mind was alive, dancing, unpredictable and often times uncontainable. The Pente-cost church cannot be dull and predictable because to the degree that we are is the degree that the Spirit has reverted to the Law, is the degree to which we are less authentically the living church of the Spirit.
Walter Wink died on May 10th. He was a famous theologian and a Methodist pastor. For a while in college he attended a Pentecostal church. He praised its spontaneity, which he saw as symbolic of the earliest days of the Christian faith, and this is something we are talking about a lot in our Bible study group right now. He didn’t stay with that denomination, however, because he rejected its biblical fundamentalism, which he saw as a contradiction to the true and original meaning of Pentecost. It turned away from the spontaneity of the Spirit and back to the rigidity of the Law. I think we have to realize that church is changing, and that the expectations of church are changing. People, especially young people, are looking for something different than only sitting in church, listening to the same music, the same prayers, and the same ol’ sermons week after week. Their discontent may be the voice of the Spirit trying to tell us that it’s time for change, and this would match perfectly with the tradition of Pentecost as Walter Wink saw it that the church is vibrant, changing and spontaneous.
Church, even our church here, is more than Sunday morning from 9 until 10. People are moved differently by the Spirit and respond differently to the Spirit. This is why I have been trying to offer different ways to be church. Mass will always be our main focus as a worshipping community, but we have to experiment with more interactive ways of celebrating the Mass. I tried the sermon blog, but it failed instantly. I’d welcome your ideas on what you would like to see on Sunday mornings. But there are other forms of worship at Holy Name. I’m surprised by how many people come up to me and mention our televised program. Even if they choose not to come here, even if they belong elsewhere, we are helping them in their worship too. I’ve taken Bible courses at three colleges and I can tell you that our Bible study group offers an academic approach to the faith. For those who need a more intellectually stimulating expression of the religion, we have something to offer. Thirdly, we have had a book club where we discussed faith and morality from perspectives beyond the sacred. I’m trying to get a couple of speakers here to offer talks for and against the “death with dignity” ballot question that will be on our November ballot. Fourthly, this space is conducive to private prayer and meditation. The church is open a full hour before Mass every Sunday for those with a contemplative streak to their faith. Plus there are the sparsely attended weekday Masses for those who enjoy the quiet of a holy place. And now we’re trying to start the Society of Brotherly Love for those who need to express their faith in Jesus by doing the things Jesus would have done for the poor and the marginalized. The Spirit touches us in unexpected and unexplainable ways, and the church has to be open to all of them if we truly believe in the continuing mystery that is Pentecost. Pentecost doesn’t allow for a spectator-faith so let us pray to be active in our worship, and open and welcoming to however we are inspired to worship. Let us find again the enthusiasm and spontaneity of the real Pentecost. For this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo