The Coming of the Holy Spirit
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. Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ - Acts 2:1-11
It's sort of counterproductive to talk about Pentecost on the day after, but somehow I don't really care. You see, I went to a Pentecost service that rocked the house, something maybe even a tiny bit like the house was at that first Spirit-visited Pentecost after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus.
In many ways it was very traditional -- the usual liturgy with familiar words and hymns, a dove on a long pole dancing over the crowd (although someone kept firm grip on its tail!), and processions. There was a baptism and, for at least a moment or two, baby Kiera became the newest Christian on the face of the earth. We all renewed our own baptismal covenant and we took the Eucharist. Including and in between those things the house rocked. Really.
We actually heard the lesson from Acts twice -- once in English and then again in other languages. Part was read in Polish, part in Spanish, another part in Dutch, yet another in French and still another in Japanese. I'm not sure how many understood any of the languages other than the English, although I know the lady sitting next to me spoke Dutch. Hearing the voices speaking in foreign tongues made me think of the Holy Spirit as an instantaneous Rosetta Stone on that first Pentecost but also how welcome it must have sounded to the people hearing that message in words they could understand, in their first language no matter how fluently they spoke other tongues. One other thing occurred to me later as I thought back over it. I hadn't really thought of it across the board but each language had its own music even in the spoken words. The cadences, the sounds -- even the occasional guttural had a feeling of music about it. I've always thought French was a particularly musical language, but in that brief span of, what?, 3 or 4 minutes of reading I gained a whole new perspective on language. It doesn't have to be sung in order to sing.
Things just got better. The priest is a particularly good preacher and yesterday was no exception. Beginning with an anecdote (like all good sermons do -- except when they begin with a joke, which is also good) about an experience of unity in the middle of a bustling international airport where tired, bored passengers were drawn together by the joy and enthusiasm of just one person, it sort of encapsulated what Pentecost was about. People being somewhat isolated in their own little groups and suddenly catching fire like a spark on dry sagebrush. At the end she did her own rendition of the story from Acts featuring the church in which she was preaching and the neighborhoods around that church. Catching fire, being excited about the message and then taking it out into a world that is often tired and bored, engaging them with our own enthusiasm for what we had experienced and were doing, as well as where we had found this fire, brought the scripture home. I'm still thinking about that and, in a way, I'm doing that as I write this. I'm jazzed. I love that church and I love what it says to the people who come through its doors. Jesus is present, God is worshipped, the Spirit is guiding. People are happy to be there and happy to participate in its life and ministry in many ways. Now isn't that a little Pentecost every Sunday and even in the middle of the week? I'd say so.
The clincher was the anthem. Those dozen or so folks in the very proper Episcopal choir robes really rocked the place. The anthem was "Joy in the House" by Mann, a gospel-type song that was accompanied by a trumpet, a saxophone, an electric guitar and a piano that almost walked across the floor in response to the artistry of a musician who can not just play Bach superbly on a small pipe organ but who can do jazz "wicked good." I looked around the room as the choir sang and it was amazing. I think everybody was having a hard time sitting still and not getting up and dancing or at least moving in response to the music. I was having a really hard time myself. It was absolutely contagious, and, you know, it so perfectly fit with the celebration of this particular church feast, not to mention the spirit that is in that church.
I think I caught a glimpse of maybe a shadow of what the first Pentecost was about yesterday, probably for the first time in years. It's always been an important day in the life of the church, but it isn't often it feels like Pentecost is still happening. No, people weren't talking in tongues or rolling on the floor. We're Episcopalians, thank you, and we have an image to maintain (said smilingly), but that doesn't mean we can't catch fire when the match is lit. It wasn't just the flames of the candles that were dancing. I have a feeling there were some hearts and minds dancing too. There was definitely joy in the house -- and not just at the anthem. That, I think, is Pentecost in a nutshell:. joy in the house of the Lord that will radiate out to a world that is tired, bored, restless and in search of something. The folks at that church certainly have found it and, I believe, will spread it throughout their other communities just like the apostles did.
Who woulda thought ... well, the Spirit moves people in mysterious ways, even very proper Episcopalians. My senses are still tingling, and that is a good thing. I bet a lot of those folks may be feeling the same thing too. Pentecost ROCKS!
Note: If you'd like to find what I found, here's where to go: the Episcopal Church of the Nativity, 22405 N Miller Rd., Scottsdale, AZ. And what their website promises, they deliver in abundance!