No media available

Pentecost Sunday - June 10, 2019
Andrew Stephens-Rennie
Christ Church Cathedral, Vancouver BC

How strange it must have been to be gathered again, clustered together in the upper room. How strange it must have been all together in one place sharing a feast, celebrating the first fruits of the harvest after all that had happened.

Fifty days after passover, they, like the rest of the Jewish world, were gathered to celebrate the pilgrimage festival of Shavuot. It was a time of feasting in the midst of fasting, enjoying the first harvest of grains that, through dying, rise to live again, in order to feed the world.

Shavuot, or as we say in English, Pentecost, is that great festival fifty days after Passover, which as we know, is a celebration of liberation from slavery, from the captivity of hearts and minds, pain felt in real bodies under real oppression.

Amongst other things, these days, it is celebrated with cheese.

Fifty days after Passover, those who followed Jesus into the impossible (the mock trial, the execution, the grave, the dread, the unknowing) emerged into a life no one seemed capable of dreaming.  Resurrection? As if.

And yet.

And yet, that Pentecost, they gathered from the four winds, this small group of Jesus-followers amidst thousands of pilgrims returned to Jerusalem, remembering the anniversary of God’s gift of the law, the ten best ways to live gifted to their people at Sinai. It seemed like a lifetime. Many lifetimes before.

Like the crowds around them, I imagine Jesus’ followers were gathered together in that room to offer back their first fruits, to join in the festivities, the well-practiced rituals of feasting, of breaking bread, of drinking wine, of taking up their own unfolding role in that ancient story in which God invites God’s people into a new way of being for each other after spending so long in the captivity of everyone for themselves.

This festival, let it be known, was a festival known for overturning the social divisions keeping people from the wholeness Creator had envisioned in the beginning. This festival helped them to re-enact the same wholeness Jesus later prayed for when praying we might all be one. 

This week as I found myself reflecting on these themes, on how perfect it is that Holy Spirit shows up in the upper room, perhaps the very same room they gathered in on the night before Jesus died; perhaps the very same room in which they gathered as he took the bread, blessed it, broke it, offering it to them, while saying, “This is my Body…”

I found myself reflecting on how perfect it is that Holy Spirit shows up in the upper room, and I wondered if the disciples still were scared, still weren’t ready, still weren’t bold enough to speak out about the new ways of being human they were discovering in community with one another, with each passing day.

I found myself reflecting on how perfect it is that Holy Spirit shows up, the disciples closeted away, not yet having come to terms with reality, not yet able to believe the truth that sets us free, the truth that Creator is for us, for all humanity, and all of creation.

Because that, in the end, is what it’s all about. That’s what it comes back to. Week in and week out, that’s what the gospel is about:

Creator is for us,

For all of humanity,

For all of creation.

And we’re invited to respond.

To live as though that just might be possible.

Thinking about it this week, trapped in my thoughts, trapped in the confines of writing about these things I say that I believe (and more often than naught struggle to live), I found myself hoping for an upper room experience.

I read the story of Pentecost, the story of God’s people gathered together in one place, and I say, “That! That is what I need. I need a sound like the rush of wind filling the entire house, sweeping me up reminding me of who I am. I need an experience of God’s power so real that I cannot deny that God is living and active in the world today.”

That’s what I need, to be filled with the Holy Spirit, to speak in other languages as the Spirit gives ability, to declare the love that God has for us, for all humanity, and for all of God’s good creation.

That’s what I need, because all too often I start my days, start my week in confusion and despair. I end my week on Sunday acknowledging in prayer and song that God is present, that God is real, that God is alive, that we are beloved of God, and pretty soon, by the time I hit Monday morning, I find myself anxious about the state of the world, about my own worth, about the state of some of my relationships, the condition of the earth we continue to batter and bruise.

And I don’t know. I just don’t know what to do. More coffee? Will that help?

And yet, what I need more than anything is the blessed assurance that God is with us, and that God is for us. Not in the sense that I’ll know that God is for us if the Raptors win their game on Monday, but the sense that God is with and amongst us as we seek to follow Jesus into the impossible. The impossible: nothing less than the resurrected life, that way of living that brings the dead back to life.

Wendell Berry, perhaps one of the poets I read most often, is fond of saying that “Health is membership.” From his agrarian viewpoint, health is membership in a community. And I don’t disagree.

Many of us know and can tell stories of what it means to be brought back to life through Spirit’s work in a Christ-centered community. I know my own story to that effect. And I know that such stories are present here amongst us tonight.

Gathered together in that upper room, the disciples, whatever they were feeling in that moment, were assembled, as we are, in community. They were there to encourage each other, to remind each other of the vision of a table for all. They were there to remind each other of all that Jesus had taught them, of the day in which he proclaimed that the Spirit was upon him, that he had come to proclaim good news of release to the captives, of healing to the sick.

And there in that upper room, that same Spirit that was upon Jesus rushes in to fill his friends with fire and boldness to proclaim good news to all who were downtrodden and oppressed. Good news to the captives and slaves. Good news to those who suffered greatly under the powers and empires of their day.

As I look around this room tonight, I wonder how Spirit is working here too. I know that she is. I’ve heard the stories. I have seen the ways in which Spirit has called many of us back to life. The ways that Spirit has reminded us of who we are.

And even if we can’t quite believe that we are worthy of God’s love, some of us are starting to believe that it might be possible that one day we will believe such impossible things.

And there are prophets among us, those who declare boldly and bodily that God’s love is for all people, no exceptions. That God’s love transcends division, melts it away, and that in this community, it is possible to live that out.

In this community, a community that I believe with every fibre of my being, is infused with Holy Spirit, we are learning—not of our own power, but with God’s help—how to rely on God and one another to proclaim good news in the languages we know best.

I think a lot of all the places and relationships we call home when we’re not gathered together. I think of the ways in which each of us differently inhabit the world, and the contexts to which we are sent each week as we leave this place.

We don’t have to speak Greek or Arabic or Spanish to share the good news of God’s love for Creation (although that’s fine too!). Each of us speaks a variety of languages. We speak the language of Educators, Construction Workers, Lawyers, Marketers, Social Workers, Spouses and partners and single people, poets and evangelicals, spiritual directors and IT Professionals, drivers and customer service folks. Artists, Activists, Advocates, Accountants, Bloggers, Students, Children, and Parents, neighbours and friends, and so many more.

We are not drunk, as some suppose, but we have come to know God’s love and we have been invited into God’s household as full members. All of which can come as unbelievable when we have, in some cases, been tossed out of other places we once called home.

And this is the good news, friends. This is the good news: that we are beloved, and so are they, and that at the end of the day, we are one. And together we can proclaim the good news that all are invited to the table, a good news that acknowledges the reality of pain and death, yet seeks to live the resurrected life here with one other.

So tonight, gathered here in this place, may we choose to be for one another, bound together by cords that cannot be broken. May we choose to respond to Holy Spirit, proclaiming this good news in the languages God has equipped us to speak: the good news of the one who calls us each beloved, the one who knows us as worthy, the one who invites all to this table,

That we might fully know what it is to be beloved, what it is to be one, and what it is to invite all people to live as though this were so.