FEAST OF PENTECOST – A – June 04, 2017

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles 2:1-11
A reading from the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians 12:3b-7. 12-13
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John 20:19-23

Much of what passes for religious art offends me.  A type of piety is depicted that is impossible to identify with.  The saints appear dower, epicene and effeminate.  Untouchable and ethereal, in no way are they part of the world I inhabit.  Insipid comes to mind.  I don’t mean to be irreverent.  Excuse me if my remarks seem disrespectful.  In no way am I an iconoclast.  Religious art ought to be so much more and ought to depict the struggle of those on The Way so that their courageous character might emerge and inspire.  Vivid in my memory is a wood-carved statue of Monica, Augustine’s mother that I had the privilege to stand before and ponder.  The woman stood, head uncovered, staff in hand.  She faced into the wind that tugged at her hair and garments.  She stood undaunted.  Valiant comes to mind.

A church near by teems with art pieces that do nothing for me.  I want to encounter representations of people whose humanity I share.  Granted, the statues represent those already in glory.  But the depictions should encourage enabling the viewer to imagine them as they were in this world, to see their fragility, to see examples of those who came to understand with Paul the transforming power of the Spirit.  No one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.  That same Spirit fortified the saints who came to know with Paul that they could do all things in (Christ) who strengthens me.  Jesus Christ is the only explanation for the success of those who walked in the trenches and engaged in the struggle.

What occasions these thoughts on this day of Pentecost is a stained-glass window representing this feast that I viewed practically every day through my growing-up years.  Think of the description in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles:  And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were…and there appeared tongues of fire.  In the window the placid group in perfectly pleated and flowing robes seemed all too tranquil, free of agitation and disturbance, unlike what would be the reaction of anyone caught in such a storm.  Shouldn’t their clothes be ruffled by the wind?  Wouldn’t fright register on a face or two?  Wouldn’t at least one hold his/her hands to the ears against the noise?  I don’t know about you, but I can’t imagine sitting calmly while fire descended and danced over me.  An event like this hadn’t happened before.  The group did not know what all of this meant or how they would be transformed by it.  Where is their terror as the world turns upside down for them and they come to realize that they will never be the same again?

A respected theologian remarked that she is surprised that safety equipment isn’t distributed to people as they come into the church for worship.  They must have no idea of what they could be in for.  Her question: What if it were to happen this time?  What if the assembled were to see clearly what happens in Baptism?  How could the Assembly watch calmly as one of the beloved descends into the pool of abundant water that is both womb and tomb?  Wouldn’t they tremble as the earth quakes and the heavens open and all creation pays heed to the Voice calling the one by name and declaring him/her, newly reborn in Christ, to be My Beloved One?  That’s what the Voice said of Jesus in the Jordan.

Wouldn’t we need seatbelts and life jackets if the Word washed over us and, broken open, entered and transformed us?  Wouldn’t we have to hang on for our dear lives if, as hands are raised over us and the elements on the altar, if when the Spirit is invoked, like the bread and wine, our very substance yielded to be transformed into Christ’s body and blood.  The Church is the Body of Christ, or so we proclaim.   But what about our having to be broken and distributed to be Christ’s loving presence in the world?  This action that is Eucharist demands all this of those who take and eat.

We celebrate Pentecost, the outpouring of the Spirit, the birthday of the Church. Shouldn’t we experience the pangs, the labor pains, as this new creation is brought forth?  I wish our icons and our Liturgical celebrations confronted us, shook us to the core, and called us to that new life Christ’s dying and rising began.  That is not likely to happen if we are lulled by romantic piety.  It seems impossible to identify with those who walked this way before us if they are so stoic.  Our art and our rituals should make us realize the wonder of the call and the impossibility of responding without our yielding and being empowered by the Spirit.  Then we could stand in awe as possibilities dawned on us.  Imagine what would happen if, as did that gathering on the first Pentecost, we threw open the doors and, filled with Christ’s love and animated by the Spirit, we rushed into the public square and spoke heart to heart to those we met there.

In the present climate, what if we believed with Paul that there are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone?

Would the hatred and division that spews in the political rhetoric resonate if we believed that in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons (or any other designation of human kind) and we were all given to drink of on Spirit?

To heal those divisions and lift up the orphans, aliens, and downtrodden, we might have to pour out our lives in service and embrace them as sisters and brothers in the one family of God.  But isn’t that what this feast is all about?




1 comment so far

  1. Stephanie Jensen on

    Fr. Jeff, you are something else and to express your inner thoughts blow us away during Pentecost. We will now look at Church pictures probably in a different way. If I was you I wouldn’t visit the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake! Much love and admiration. Ted and Steph

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