4 Jun 2017
“‘As the Father has sent me so I send you.’ When [Jesus] had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” (John 20:21-22) In the name …
Some of the guys in the YMSofR Men’s Club are heading to Hartford on July 2nd to see the Yard Goats minor league baseball team play. They made the news last week. The opposing pitcher fell off balance in his delivery and the baseball just rolled over toward the first base line. It was nowhere near home plate. It was so far away and rolling on the ground that the batter jokingly took a swing, but the umpire called him out on strikes anyway because he swung the bat while standing in the batter’s box. It may have seemed as if it didn’t matter, but it did, even pitches rolling on the ground.
Let me share another story with you. I subscribe to a Classical music, I don’t know, podcast or something. Every week they share relevant music with the listener. At Easter, I was listening to an organ composition by Matthew Martin called “This is the day the Lord has made.” The commentator, Michael Barone, mentioned that the piece’s final “alleluia” is rather quiet and that the organ trails off to silence, which is sort of out of place with the majesty and joy of Easter. Then he said that this was perhaps a “comment on the notion that this Easter day, important as it is, is but one day of many that the Lord has made, about which we should be thankful too and perhaps more attentive.” (Pipedreams, 4/10/17) Here’s that message again, but now in the context of faith, that everything matters, not only Easters, but every day.
And this is a message I hear in Pentecost too. I explain in this month’s newsletter why I think the day of the Jewish feast of Pentecost was chosen as the particular occasion for the sharing of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit becomes our direct connection with God just as the tablets of the Law had once been. But while the tablets were locked inside the Ark of the Covenant and the Ark locked deep behind the fortress-like walls of the Temple, the Spirit instead drove people together.
Since Pentecost is linked intentionally with the Jewish feast of the same name, it’s logical to assume that the imagery used is shared, as well. When Israel approaches Mount Sinai, the place where Moses receives the Ten Commandments from God, fire is one of the signs that God is present on the mountain, and God warns the people through that fire that they must not approach too close or they will die. Fire is a fearful image and one that enforces a barrier between God and the people. But on the new Pentecost, the presence of God is seen as tongues of fire, and the meaning is completely reversed. This divine fire drives the disciples out of their huddled isolation and out onto the streets of Jerusalem, and this same Spirit is then shared with the crowds outside who heard the apostles. And if we’re listening we can hear the message that everyone matters.
The Bible tells us that pilgrims from all around the Mediterranean were in Jerusalem and that all of them with their different language all heard what the apostles were saying. This can’t mean that one apostle spoke Greek, another Latin, and another Hebrew and so forth because on that first Pentecost, Peter gives a speech, Peter alone, and yet all these different people, listening in all their different languages, heard and understood. Fire once enforced separation, but fire now forces people to come together, and in that crowd is where the Spirit chose not only to be revealed, but to revel.
Pentecost is the challenge to think through what it means when we believe in a God who was born as one of us so that He would be connected to all of us, who died for all people – the ones who mourned His death and even the ones crucifying Him to death, who arose from the dead and appeared to the ones who loved Him but also to those who denied and abandoned Him, and who now, on Pentecost, is shared broadly with those gathered from all over the world in the city of Jerusalem, in the Upper Room and out in the streets, in other words, everyone matters. One of the earliest Church Fathers said that the church is wherever the Spirit is and the Spirit is wherever the church is. And Pentecost reveals that the Spirit is everywhere. To me this bears witness to the multiple and radical possibilities that our faith holds, one of which is healing division and bringing people together.
Pentecost is God not watching from the sidelines, but standing with us, and actually forcing us to come together, and this should have consequences. This direct experience of God who draws us out of the safety of isolation and out onto the unknown of the streets should shake us out of conformity and force us to talk and listen to others, even others who are different. Prof. Stephanie Paulsell spoke at the recent Harvard Divinity School graduation, and she said that a faith open to a continuing encounter with God will require “us to think theologically, even mystically—to feel our way along the edges of human existence and to wonder with others from many times and places what might be beyond those edges, just out of our line of sight, and what a life that integrates the known and the unknown might look like.” That’s pretty exciting. It’s definitely challenging. And this is what Pentecost call us to.
In John’s Gospel it is said that God the Father sends the Son into the world, then chapters later it says He will send the Spirit into the world, and then finally, in words we shared in today’s Gospel, we heard the resurrected Jesus tell His followers: “‘As the Father has sent me so I send you.’” (5:23; 14:26; 20:21) You can see the company we’re in. God expects much of us, but we’re not alone; we’re never alone. As soon as Jesus gives us this charge, He shares the Spirit with us. To celebrate Pentecost is to believe in Pentecost, and to believe in Pentecost means to be sent out into the world to discover how the Spirit will bring us together, to find out what’s beyond the edges of the way things are and to discover how things can be. That we may continue the work of Pentecost of bringing people together, for this may we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randy Calvo