Reflection for June 5, 2022
John 14:8-17, 25-27
Psalm 104:24-28, 30, 33
Today is the Feast of Pentecost, and I’d like to begin with a quote from Hymn 209 which we sang last Sunday. The quote is just part of a verse, really just a fragment. And it goes:
We may not touch his hands and side,
nor follow where he trod . . .
When I think of Easter, I think of the Resurrection, and I think of the beautiful traditions of the holiday – the Easter eggs, the family dinner. And when I think of Christmas, there is literally an explosion of exciting tradition – pictures of the Nativity from all the ages, the smell of greenery, the darkness and the candles, the songs. You can each put yourselves into the atmosphere of these holidays.
But when I think of Pentecost, there are no Pentecost cakes or dishes, no family dinners, no colorful traditions. At least, I don’t know of any. It does not seem a feast that brings up a lot of exuberance. – except of course in today’s passage from the Acts of the Apostles.
Why is this? I think it’s because actually Pentecost is the holiday of our loneliness. Or maybe I should say it is the holiday without Jesus. Since Ascension, the apostles had to deal with the absence of Jesus in the flesh. And we have to do the same. As much as we love Jesus, he is not physically present to walk the trails and roads with us, to eat with us, to touch us, to take our hands, to wash our feet, to talk to us. Jesus has ascended and he is not here on earth anymore. And we are left with the deep expressed among the very last words of the Bible – Come, Lord Jesus! (Revelation 22:20)
Jesus knew that we would feel alone. In the great farewell of the Last Supper in the Gospel of John, Jesus prays: And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you, Holy Father, protect them in your name . . . so that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in your name . . . I guarded them. . . [I] am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them . . . (John 17:11-12) He knew that the Apostles would need and that we do need protection and care.
So, I feel sometimes that the great challenge of being a Christian is how to live in a world in which Jesus the man is no longer walking. The Gospels give us such a bright picture of him and now he’s gone.
How do we live with this challenge? Well, he feast of Pentecost addresses this loneliness. We are challenged to find God. And Pentecost supplies the Holy Spirit. But, despite the exciting events of the first Pentecost in Jerusalem and occurrences like Philip’s being whisked away by the Spirit after he’d spoken with the Ethiopian eunuch, the Spirit seems fairly quiet. Yet, the Spirit is Jesus’ great promise. The Spirit is the beginning of the Age of Us. It’s the beginning liturgically to the “long green season” of Pentecost.
So, how do we meet the challenge of Jesus’ physical absence? How do we sensitize ourselves to his promise of the Spirit? We have to do this because we live in a demanding world that claims our energy and attention. Just look at all that the Apostles had to deal with in the story Saint Luke relates in Acts. How do we live? How do we hope? How do we endure?
Well, first, as a child, my catechism taught me that “Our body is the Temple of the Holy Spirit.” This is a healthful call to respect the body, but now I think it goes beyond. In the Acts of the Apostles, Paul makes a memorable statement, or perhaps he is quoting even a pagan philosopher: . . . [T]hey would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him – though indeed he is not far from each of us. For “In him we live and move and have our being . . . (Acts 17: 27-28
Paul is saying God and Jesus are in you. They are close to you. They are family members. They are part of our being. They are as close as the joints of our limbs. . . . [B]ecause I live, you also will live. On that day, you will know that I am in my Father and you in me, and I in you. (John 14:19-20). I think this is what Jim Stickney meant when he mentioned “divinization” in his sermon last month.
And so we look for Jesus in our hearts and in our bodies. I say we look for Jesus, but I think I mean we try to realize that he is present. He is in us as he is in God the Father. This occurs because we have the Spirit.
Second, the gentleness and strength from the Spirit is our being together! I mean in Saint Alban’s, the church as the Body of Christ. It is we who obey Jesus’ command that we love one another. (John 15:12) We can find the power and the courage to love, which as Steve Hitchcock preached a couple of weeks ago, is in fact our work. He did not say it is something that we just do: he said it is our work.
How I would love to meet Jesus in the flesh. What a great hope that is. In the meantime, let’s consider how we act in this world without Jesus in the flesh.
So, here are some suggestions kind of in the spirit of how Margaret Doleman called on us to talk about the occasions when we thought we’d said the right thing at the right time::
Suggestion 1: On the first Pentecost, Peter preached and quoted the prophet Joel, saying . . . your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams . . . (Acts 2:17) So, when have you prophesied or dreamed dreams. Was it the thrill of hearing the notes of the first hymn of the service? Was it saying to a non-Christian or unchurched friend that you’ll pray for her daughter with Covid and seeing their eyes light up? Was it being in a meeting to hope and plan and manage something beautiful, like a musical ensemble, or in a vestry meeting to plan our continued future and to scratch heads over what to do about the drainage on the north side. Was it calling someone in the hospital and taking the lead to pray over the phone with them?
Suggestion 2: So, when have you loved recently? Did you grocery shop for your children and grandchildren? Were you kind in your interactions with people on any given day, both friends and family or simply people you encounter in a shop, a homeless person you give a banana to? Have you tried to put away the thought that some people are lesser because of their opinions or political party. Did you care for someone sick or disabled in your home or family? Did you give away some money – even a widow’s mite – to the Alameda County Food Bank, or the Richmond Rescue Mission. or something else. I am not going to ask whether you’re planning on becoming President of the United States or founder and leader of an NGO because actually we have to love where we are.
Suggestion 3 involves seeking God within us, in the joints of our body, as the person in whom we live and move and have our being. I can only imagine that a big part of this finding of the “absent Jesus” is prayer. Prayer is the place I know of where we sit down and actually talk to God. It is direct. And there is no such thing as bad prayer! You can be distracted, your mind might wander. That’s fine. You can say, “I’m sorry, Lord. I drifted off.” or not. The point is you are talking to him. If you talk to him, you realize he is there, to comfort us, to just be present, to strengthen and assist, to recognize us.
I want to close with another quote from Hymn 209. It summarizes in four lines just about everything I’ve said. Here goes:
We walk by faith, and not by sight;
no gracious words we hear from him
who spoke as none e’er spoke;
but we believe him near.
This is our season. Happy Pentecost.