Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | May 26, 2020

The most Pentecosty of Pentecosts

Several weeks past Easter, I am still talking to folks who lament the fact that they were unable to gather in person for that greatest of Christian holy days. They missed being in the worship space they love, with their familiar leadership and music, joining friends and all the guests who show up on that holy day. Instead, they watched on the internet as someone preached to a near-empty room, as familiar music played without congregational singing, as prayers were offered in what appeared to be a vacuum.

This Sunday we welcome Pentecost, a celebration of the church becoming the church. Some congregations will be gathering together physically, but most I know will not. As so many have noted, that doesn’t mean they aren’t being the church. As a matter of fact, I think that being the dispersed church is the most visible theological statement we are making right now.

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. [from Acts 2]

The church on its first Pentecost is really only the church when it exits its place of prayer. At the beginning of the story in Acts 2, the Jesus people are gathered. When they encounter the spirit, they apparently are immediately on the move. Out on the street they meet those who are also looking for an encounter with the holy. In faith and courage from all those , they share a language of love, welcome, and peace.

What is the church doing (or what can it do) during this pandemic that makes it the church?

  • The church is the church when it speaks the language of the weakest in our society—the poor, those with inadequate health care, the at-risk, the sick, the dying, the grieving, the unemployed. We need to listen to their voices and to join in with our own. Now is the time, perhaps more than any other, to emphasize partnership with our communities, especially the communities of need, and to increase our presence even when that presence isn’t physical.
  • The church is the church when its members recognize their responsibility to every human being by being cautious and respectful, by not endangering other people, by not putting pressure on the health system, by wearing masks in public, and by maintaining social distance. To disregard the health of our fellow humans is to deny the teachings of Jesus.
  • The church is the church when it celebrates the good and calls out the bad, when it pays attention to the science and eschews fake or misleading news and commentary, when it honors those whose jobs are essential to keeping us going, when it advocates for those in need, when it promotes governmental support for those who’ve been most deeply affected by the current crisis.

I confess that while I have missed certain qualities of the gathered faith community, I’ve loved watching faithful people display new ways of being the church scattered. We’ve been reminded of the many who are often excluded from in-person worship because of age or illness or because of job requirements or life circumstance. Our own inability to congregate makes us more mindful of those for whom that is their typical situation. Some faith communities have learned to speak the languages of Zoom and Facebook and YouTube.

It seems that we are recovering some of the principles of the early church—the fundamentals of caring for each other and for everyone, the reclaiming of the concept of “neighbor,” the understanding that everything is transitory, the reminder of what’s important. We are relating differently to each other and to the world. We are speaking the language of life.

The church isn’t the buildings. It isn’t even just a gathered faith community. The church is the people who live and participate in the world and who do their best to improve the lives of all.

When we have relearned these truths, then—despite our inability to assemble as usual—we have experienced new life in new ways.

If Easter is about life and resurrection, and if Pentecost is about newness and the expansiveness of God’s welcome, then this year—in relearning these truths in unfamiliar circumstances—we may be experiencing the most Eastery of Easters, and the most Pentecosty of Pentecosts.

© 2020, Melissa Bane Sevier

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