there came from the sky
a noise like a strong driving wind,
and it filled the entire house in which they were.
Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire,
which parted and came to rest on each one of them.
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit
Without Pentecost Jesus of Nazareth would have disappeared into history a
long time ago; his impact would have vanished like a pebble tossed in a
stormy sea. But his death and resurrection were an enormous earthquake such as the
Earth has never seen; it raised a tsunami of the Holy Spirit which overwhelms
even our troubled world. When he died the Universe drew a
deep breath, like the ebb of an enormous tide; and then the Spirit fell upon those
who have eyes to see and ears to hear. Unfortunately, for many people,
the Easter Season ends not with a bang but a whimper. They were eager to
celebrate Christmas; they nodded toward Easter; they never heard of Pentecost. Only
for those who take their Confirmation seriously, who didn’t regard that
Sacrament as a graduation
ceremony, is Pentecost a sheer delight.
Today the Church is born, that “organized religion” that people say they do
not need because they already know Jesus. They have a spiritual relationship with him.
Can one be born spiritually of a mother without her giving birth? Can one be
conceived of a father without his physical presence? Not without grave harm to our human nature. There is no knowledge of Jesus outside his body, the Church. Certainly one can
hear of Jesus, as we hear of Julius Caesar and Pontius Pilate; one can read about
his teachings, parables and miracles in the tattered bibles found in seedy hotel
To know Jesus actually is to meet him face to face in the Eucharist, in the Imposition
of Hands of Confirmation, in the Marriage of man and woman, in the absolution
of Reconciliation – in the flesh and blood people of a living, breathing congregation.
Today we celebrate the birthday of the Church. It’s easy to be cynical about
church membership and the people who show up each week. They are not invariably
pretty and all of them are aging. They're not marketable commodities. In the bright sunshine of God’s love each one
casts a shadow which is readily visible to friends and foes.
Do they love God with all their hearts, souls, minds and strength? Yes –
collectively. Individually? Not so well. But they are reassured of God’s saving
love collectively and individually. No one is saved by himself or herself. No one
who has loved a child or parent, brother or sister wants to be saved alone. What
kind of salvation would that be, to spend eternity in solitude with strangers? We
are saved because we have been baptized into the body of Christ, we have eaten
his flesh and drank his blood and inhaled his breath when he said, “Receive the
Holy Spirit.” Our religion is neither education nor edification; it is
incorporation. We are the Body of Christ.
I think the Church is like the passengers in a crowded subway car. Just as
the mobs in Jerusalem moved in close to hear the excited voices of the apostles
on that Pentecost Sunday, so we stand shoulder to shoulder, belly to butt to
hear our shepherd’s voice. The laughter of the Holy Spirit ripples through this
crowd from one person to another; as does remorse for our sins and sighs of relief
upon hearing Good News.
Gathered by the Holy Spirit into the Communion of the Saints, we celebrate Pentecost and the blessed appearance of the Church in human history.