Merry Whitsunday! Happy Pentecost!
This Sunday is the Feast of Pentecost which is, along with Christmas and Easter, one of the three great festivals of Christian life. Preachers often talk about Pentecost as “the Church’s birthday”, and to the extent that Pentecost ritualizes the Spirit’s descending on the gathered community, it is that. But it’s also something more. Something great is happening at Pentecost, and it is this: in creating the church, a community of people who gather as followers of Jesus, who open themselves to each other and the world, God is undoing the effects of the avalanche of sin that characterized human life between Eden and the Crucifixion. In creating the church, God has made a community where people of a variety of backgrounds, classes, races, and cultures come together in true human mutuality and oneness. In creating the church, God has made a living, loving body of Christ empowered to spread the blessings which began in Jesus and which continue in his name.
Now this is not just fancy religious thinking. It has real implications for you and me and our lives in the world. We live in a culture which is a monument to self-centeredness. Our culture promises us in all kinds of ways that we can achieve total human fulfillment entirely on our own as individuals. It proclaims that we do not need each other,that each of us can and should be entirely self-sufficient. As a friend of mine says: the great benefit of living in an overly individualistic culture is that it offers us the opportunity of being in hell while we’re still alive.
Pentecost is deeply true in that it reminds us how God has called us each and all into a body, a community, a gathering where we can live out life as God intended it to be in Eden. Human life at its best is interconnected, and true human freedom realizes that it always stands in tension with real obligations—to God, to each other, to the world, and yes, to ourselves. We cannot be free without love for each other. Our independence is meaningless without justice. When we say that “in Christ there is a new Creation,” we mean exactly that. In the life and death and resurrection and ascension of Jesus, in the giving of the Spirit to the community which follows Jesus and gathers in his name, God is doing a new, radical, creative thing which you and I are part of. God is beginning the world again, in and through us, and God is calling us to step into that new world of grace and joy and hope and forgiveness and love.
Pentecost is as important as Christmas and Easter, but we rarely give it the attention it deserves. As we gather this year, let’s give thanks that God has given us the divine presence in each other. Merry Whitsunday! Happy Pentecost!