Pentecost Sunday is a day on which we are reminded that the Holy Spirit was promised and has been given. We celebrate the fulfillment of a promise by Jesus that the Advocate, the Paraclete, the one sent by Jesus would come to remind us of all that Jesus taught, to be with us, and to bring to us the power of God. We celebrate this day with three readings – each one of which is filled with mention of the Spirit. The first reading is the account from Acts 2 so familiar to every Christian, 50 days after the Resurrection. We imagine it as a very public event in which the power of the Spirit came with the roar of a great wind, as though tongues of fire, and suddenly the disciples can speak in a way that people from everywhere can understand them. It is as though what happened at the Tower of Babel is undone and finally the world can be united. The Spirit-filled disciples are to be the agents that restore unity to the world. Continue reading
“Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” Many scholars see a parallel between v.23 and Matthew 18:18: “Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” The parallel becomes clearer when we know that the words “forgive” in John 20:23 are the Greek words aphiēmi and krateō which mean “send away” and “hold” respectively [EDNT 2:314]. But even with the parallels aside, the meaning, extent and exercise of the Matthean and Johannine powers has been a source of division with the post-Reformation Christian community. Continue reading
“As the Father has sent me, so I send you” The Fourth Gospel speaks often of Jesus being sent into the world by the Father: to do his will (6:38–39; 8:29), to speak his words (3:34; 8:28; 12:49; 14:24; 17:8), to perform his works (4:34; 5:36; 9:4) and win salvation for all who believe (3:16–17). That the disciples were sent to continue the words and works of Jesus is foreshadowed at various places in the Gospel: Jesus urged them to lift up their eyes and see fields ripe for harvest, and told them he had sent them to reap where others had labored (4:35–38), he said those who believed in him would do the works he had done and greater works than these because he was returning to the Father (14:12); he told them, “I … chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you” (15:16), saying that when the Paraclete comes “he will testify to me. And you also testify, because you have been with me from the beginning” (15:26–27), and when he prayed for his disciples he said to the Father, “As you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world” (17:18). This last text, which parallels 20:21, confirms that the sending of the disciples was ‘into the world’, i.e. with a mission to the world. The other texts reveal the essential content of their mission was to ‘harvest’ men and women for the kingdom by their witness to Jesus by word and deed, alongside the ongoing witness of the Spirit. Continue reading
The Johannine account of the first post-resurrection appearance to the gathered disciples is linked to the events of the Resurrection by the simple expression “that first day.” As the startling and disturbing events of the last three days had unfolded the community’s overriding response was fear. They had gathered, but had locked themselves away out of fear of what persecutions the religious authorities might bring against them. It is into this complex of uncertainty, perhaps doubt and hesitation, that Jesus appears. Continue reading
19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 (Jesus) said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the holy Spirit. 23 Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” Continue reading
As a liturgical season, Lent is rather straightforward. It is kinda’ easy to write about. There is Ash Wednesday to dramatically mark its beginning, and we all know we are moving relentlessly towards Easter. We count the days even as we mark Lent’s beginning. The Ashes make a visible mark upon us, reminding us that we are dust and to dust we shall return – but that is not the end of the story. We are reminded to repent and believe in the Gospel – but that is not the end goal. We are encouraged to pray, fast, and give alms – but those practices are meant to make room in our lives for God that we too may rise to the newness of life at Eastertide. Continue reading
You know it is when it hasn’t rained in a long time and then it does. Not a gully washer of a rain, but just a regular rain. You know the roads can get a little slick when the accumulated road oil comes to the surface. Well that is what happened to this truck driver on a country road. Came around this corner and the tires started to slip a little bit, then a lot, and he skidded right to the ditch. Continue reading
Monday night I was called out to Tampa General for an emergency anointing for a patient preparing to pass into God’s bright glory. When I arrived at the room, a very familiar sight greeted me. Kumbe! There was a pair of religious sisters I recognized as Benedictine Sisters from Tanzania. I attended to the immediate family, greeting them and offering some words of comfort. When I came to the Sisters, it was their chance to be surprised when I greeted them in Kiswahili. Their eyes grew wide, surprised that another person in this small room shared some of the sounds and words of their home a half a world away. We all let the surprise pass and gave way to the woman for whom I had been called. Continue reading
John 20:19-31 :: 19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 (Jesus) said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the holy Spirit. 23 Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”
If this Pentecost gospel reading “rings a bell”, it is because this was the gospel for the 2nd Sunday on Easter. That instance of the reading went on to include the misnamed account of “Doubting Thomas.” Rather than repeat those materials during the course of the week, I will simply provide links to what I had already posted:
As the week progresses, perhaps I might find other odds and ends to post regarding Pentecost.
As a liturgical season, Lent is rather straightforward. It is kinda’ easy to write about. There is Ash Wednesday to dramatically mark its beginning, and we all know we are moving relentlessly towards Easter. We count the days even as we mark Lent’s beginning. The Ashes make a visible mark upon us, reminding us that we are dust and to dust we shall return – but that is not the end of the story. We are reminded to repent and believe in the Gospel – but that is not the end goal. We are encouraged to pray, fast, and give alms – but those practices are meant to make room in our lives for God that we too may rise to the newness of life at Eastertide.
Perhaps some will wonder why I did not write, “the newness of life at Easter.” Isn’t Easter that day when we celebrate Jesus’ being raised from dead? Isn’t Easter the finish line, the ultimate, the highest of the high holy days, the pinnacle of the Church’s liturgical celebrations? No, yes, yes, and yes. Easter is not the finish line. Allow me some poetic license here, but Easter is to Eastertide, what Ash Wednesday is to Lent. It is the day we begin to count.
Eastertide is the 50-day season beginning on Easter Sunday with a dramatic mark in the celebration of the Resurrection of Christ, relentlessly moving to Pentecost Sunday. Easter and Pentecost correspond to two Jewish holy days, the first day of Pesach and the holiday of Shavu’ot. In the Jewish tradition, the days between these holidays are known as Counting of the Omer. The idea of counting each day represents spiritual preparation and anticipation for the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai.
Easter is not the finish line, but the “Ash Wednesday” of Eastertide when we again begin to count, to spiritually prepare and anticipate the giving of the Spirit on Pentecost. If in Lent we have traditional practices to help prepare us to celebrate the Risen Christ, what are we practicing in Eastertide? I think the answer is profoundly simple: we practice what we witnessed on Easter – resurrection.
The Catholic writer, Megan McKenna, has a wonderful vignette about practicing resurrection in her book, Not Counting Women and Children: Neglected Stories from the Bible. She had shared in a Bible study, “that life happens when we are interrupted, and that some of the most powerful acts of resurrection happen to the least likely people; that we are the people of resurrection and hope, called to live passionately and compassionately with others, to defy death, to forgive, and to bring others back into the community, to do something that is life-giving, that fights death and needless suffering.” It is at this point that someone asks, somewhat harshly, “Have you ever brought someone back from the dead.” I love her answer: “My response was, ‘Yes … Every time I bring hope into a situation, every time I bring joy that shatters despair, every time I forgive others and give them back dignity and the possibility of a future with me and others in the community, every time I listen to others and affirm them and their life, every time I speak the truth in public, every time I confront injustice — yes — I bring people back from the dead.”’
If in Lent we made room for God, here in Eastertide we work with Christ, practicing what he has already shown us: newness of life. And so we practice resurrection in our own lives by introducing joy, forgiveness, listening, justice, compassion… and so much more. And we count the days to Pentecost when the Spirit is given that we may take the honed skills of resurrection into a waiting world.