Another Needed Meaning of Pentecost
On Easter Sunday, we celebrated the resurrection without knowing, many of us, about the mass killings at Christian churches in Shri Lanka. We prayed for the victims, the following Sunday in worship, but then remembered the killing of Jews at a synagogue in California, which was itself the six month anniversary of the killings at another synagogue in Pittsburg. Amidst these tragedies, we prayed for the Muslims who were killed in Christchurch NZ in March. I found myself troubled and disgusted that I was becoming unable to keep up with all of the violence.
When we think of Pentecost, we tend to remember the account given in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles: a rush of violent wind, sweeping through the room in which the frightened disciples are gathered; tongues "as of fire" descending upon their heads; men and women filling the crowded morning streets of Jerusalem, proclaiming the gospel fluently in a perplexing array of languages.
This, we say, was how the Christian church was born-a public, compelling, miraculous display of overwhelming, divine power. Another, currently “needed”, understanding of Pentecost can be found in John's Gospel, Chapter 20. The Risen Jesus appears to his disciples and, after blessing them with his peace, breathes upon them. The Greek word for "breath" is pneuma, also translated as "spirit". Jesus then in-spirits/inspires them with his own breath/spirit/Holy Spirit and authorizes them for the mission of “forgiving sins”.
If we are ever going to experience the “peace” Jesus promised his disciples, then we’ll need to learn something about “forgiveness” as well. Holding onto grievances leads to a never ending cycle of destruction, bringing down not only individual humans, but the people around them, and even the world. The Holy Spirit gives us power to go about the everyday, unspectacular, grubby work of forgiveness. Breathe, forgive; breathe, forgive; breathe, forgive. At least equal to anyone’s quest for justice must be their capacity to forgive.
No one will ever be able to upstage Luke’s telling of Pentecost in Acts 2, in which the church was born. We’ll remember this event on June 9 in worship at FUMC. As meaningful as this is, another meaning is needed from time to time. Fortunately the gospel of John, provides us with a less well-known, but crucially important meaning for Pentecost. The Spirit empowers us to forgive and let go, for our own sake, and that of the world.
I hope to see you this Sunday at the church where we’ll breathe in the Spirit fully!
“Grace and Peace”, “Shalom”, “Salaam”,
Rev. Will White