Day of Pentecost
As Christians called together to worship and serve, we have quite a history. We’ve had some glorious moments and some not-so-glorious moments. We should remember and repent of the times when we misinterpreted God’s will by endorsing slavery, forcing Indigenous people to accept Christ or subjugating women by saying they had no right to speak and lead. But we can also remember the Protestant Reformation seeking to address abuses of authority. We can celebrate the Confessing Church movement courageously standing up to Hitler in Nazi Germany and African American churches leading this country in a Civil Rights revolution. We’ve had low moments and high moments, dull moments and exciting moments, joyful moments and painful moments as a group of fallible human beings trying to be Christ’s body in the world.
Today’s Pentecost passage tells the story of what we consider the birth of the church. Weary and mournful, the disciples gathered early in the morning for worship. A religious minority at the time, they were easily persecuted for their strange beliefs. They gathered for support, comfort and accountability. They would remain faithful, they promised each other during worship. They would not let the good news go unproclaimed.
Pentecost Sunday is our chance to pause and celebrate the faithful who still gather, week after week, month after month, in our community and around the world, to meet the Spirit of Christ.
Ronald Byars, in his book The Future of Protestant Worship: Beyond the Worship Wars, tells a story about a couple who have a son with developmental disabilities. “The family is active in the church,” Byars writes. “They seldom miss worship. One winter Sunday morning they awakened late and breakfast took longer than usual, and everything seemed a little off-balance. The parents decided, for this one Sunday, to stay home from church. They told their son, who seemed to accept their decision. But after pondering this news, he asked his father, ‘Won’t Jesus miss us?’”
Jesus meets us in Christian community. We experience the risen Christ through our gathering and the spiritual rituals – baptism, communion, communal prayer, singing of hymns – that hold the heft of a tradition passed on from generation to generation. As the pandemic forced us into isolation, we have recognized now, more than ever, how good it is to gather as Christian community.
When I am preparing to preach, I take great care in crafting my sermon. I pray about the people for whom I will be preaching, study the Scripture and ask the Spirit to guide me towards a relevant and helpful message. Then I write, and rewrite, and rewrite some more, honing my sentences and my message. On Saturday night, after my kids have gone to bed, I preach my sermon in front of the bathroom mirror with the water running so my husband won’t complain about my loud voice (I can get pretty passionate.) The practice is always good for me. But speaking my words alone, however passionately, is not the same as preaching in church.
Before the gathered community, I feel an energy that is part passion and part adrenaline. But it’s also a feeling of connection. We’re in this together. We’re doing this Christian thing together. I’m convinced this feeling is the Spirit at work. The Spirit of Christ who promises to meet and move us when we gather together.
In today’s text, after the disciples had gathered, and after they had been moved by the Holy Spirit at work among them, Peter stood up to preach. For his text he chose the prophet Joel:
“Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy. Your young men shall see visions. Your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit … and everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Joel 2:28-32).
I imagine Peter standing there, preaching these words, sharing this vision of people of all classes and stations brought together by the Spirit, with the disciples and the gathered Parthians, Medes, Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia. I imagine Peter full of energy, passion and adrenalin. I imagine Peter reminding his people of God’s promise to meet us whenever we gather. I know how he felt. Maybe you do, too. This is why we keep going back to church.
Questions for reflection:
- What do you wish to celebrate about your church today?
- When have you felt connected to other Christians of the past or present?
- In what ways does Christ meet you in Christian community?