I don’t know about yours, but my Tribe will spend Pentecost avoiding it. Pentecost is barely recognized by the evangelical church. Perhaps if it had a few commercial products attached to it we might give it more notice. It’s one of those things that we all know about but tend to dismiss as over-hyped, like crop circles. It represents something about Life that is far outside our locus of control and understanding. For most, it’s a story best left in the past as a marker of the beginning of what we have come to understand as Church.
It was, after all, a strange day. Those who believed in the resurrected Jesus gathered together to pray and to wait, as instructed. No doubt they had probably been boggling and marveling over some of the amazing events that had occurred and were trying to make some sense of it all. Many of them had watched His cruel death – this man who lived a subversive “in your face” to the power structures of their world and who wanted His miracles kept quiet but His love for untouchables and outcasts proclaimed. Many of them had actually seen Him alive again, cooking breakfast for His friends on the beach, serving them as He had always done. Then they watched him taken up into heaven. They were beginning to realize that it was the Almighty who had come and washed their feet. Everything was different now. What could it all mean?
My friend Karey (my very awesome Christian calendar friend) reminds us that Pentecost refers back to the time when God gave His Law to Israel from Mount Sinai, a gift of God to His Bride Israel in order to bring them Life, as a cloud came and hovered the mountain like a canopy in the Jewish wedding ceremony. The people of Israel had been instructed to wait for Moses to return with the gift – the Law of God inscribed by God’s own finger into tablets of stone. They could not wait, instead turning to idols they could fashion themselves. It is thought that the breaking of the glass at the wedding signifies the breaking of the tablets, as Israel could not wait for the Bridegroom. Here at Pentecost now comes the Spirit of God, the promise of this new covenant of the Bridegroom and His Church, which is foretold to be called from all nations. And under the canopy of the Spirit, the finger of God is ready to inscribe the New Way on our very hearts. (Yes, there’s a whole lot more about feasts and counting days and weeks and all but y’all can look it up.)
Waiting is a waste of our valuable time. (How many times this last year has someone made known what they’d like to see happen in the church and punctuated it with a warning, do this or I’m gone.) We want a faith that makes sense and brings clarity and that puts some sort of a face on mystery, like a golden calf. It’s troubling that we call that faith. In that light, an expression of God described as rushing wind and overflowing waters, tongues of fire and intoxication is just too much. We hesitate to bind ourselves to such a spouse because after all, we are not crazy. We cannot hold the Spirit in a theological box nor predict Her movement. Our orders of worship, services, programs for good Christian living and even building structures are designed to not allow in disruption. No surprises. Even for those who do mark this day, it is always with the assurance that we have it figured out and safely contained, like plutonium.
Yet 10 days after the Ascension, the Spirit rushed into that little room, filling the waiting people with God, causing them to break forth into languages that could be understood by “every nation under heaven”. I believe in this story lies the portrait of the church as she was always meant to be – of one accord in prayer, filled with voices of both men and women, pouring in, pouring out, giving, living, eating, making space within themselves for gathering in.
From the beginning the Spirit waited, hovering like a canopy over chaotic waters, ready to bring Life and beauty, wild and diverse and free, springing forth, filling and multiplying. Perhaps our resistance to this same Spirit is our anxiety about this wild diversity, that S/He will loosen the voices that will change the structures to which we have bound ourselves. The voice of Martin Luther King, who was refused admission by every conservative southern seminary, went on to topple segregation and bring about the civil rights movement. What will the church look like when the Spirit pours in again and once again, everyone has a voice, everyone can let go of what we think we need to measure our well-being and everyone is welcome? What will the world look like as a result?
Perhaps the prayer and the waiting is what it takes to open the last of our clutching fingers so we can give God full sway to bring the Kingdom forth. I pray for the courage to let all prophesy and to dream dreams again, (whatever that means) for if all have voice in the Church, the church is no longer something we can own and predict and control. If all have voice and dreams, each of us is changed by the other as we learn to shift to make room for the different, new and unexpected.
Pentecost celebrates that we are brought to our truest selves. It celebrates the truth that we are the Beloved of God. It proclaims the truth that we all belong to one another. It brings men and women together as equals, and joy that overflows to the point where ownership and status and hierarchy fall away. We can live in the Really Real (see last post). It is the beginning of the great gathering in. Robert Webber says that we are living out the Pentecost experience- an “in between time”- between the Holy Spirit’s coming and Jesus’ final coming. I think our current economic woes are God’s way of blowing though and saying, wake up to yourselves again, enough. Remember who and whose you are. So it is not a time to be afraid. It is a time to lean in and wait for the power of God.
One thing I have heard over and over again from many places lately is our need to pray of one accord, even if we can’t agree on other things. Pray, wait (learn silence), receive. Dare to unlock doors of we’re right and they’re wrong, open the stained-glass windows, let in the rushing wind. Receive what is our heart’s desire.