Pentecost 2020

It is Pentecost - 50 days after Easter. It has been the strangest Easter that I can remember. Yesterday I had a brief conversation with my next door neighbor - from a safe distance - and he commented that it never felt like Easter at all this year. I’m not sure that I would go that far, because we have been reading all of the Easter texts and even though the church has not been gathering for face-to-face worship, I have been leading worship and planning worship and thinking about the meaning of Easter. But it definitely has been very strange - different than any previous Easter in my memory.

The conversations in our church are similar to conversations that are going on around the country. Our leaders are cautious, fearing that returning to in-person worship on a large scale might result in inadvertent spreading of the virus. Our people are eager to be together and some are ready to come back to church. There are advocates of a “soft” start in which we simply began to allow people to make their own choices while providing for distance inside the building. We’ve reconfigured the furniture in our fellowship hall and taped off pews in our sanctuary in anticipation of such an event. Still the Church Board is hesitant, not wanting to make a decision that would put people in danger.

The story of the first Pentecost, recorded in the book of Acts, gives no mention to physical distancing. One gets a mental picture of a crowded room. “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.” The scene described is a bit chaotic, with so many people speaking in so many different languages. I understand the hyperbole that is used in this type of text. The claim that “there were devout Jews from ever nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.” Despite the list of languages that appears later in the text, there are plenty that are missing. There are no tribes from North America named, no Indonesian islanders, no Australian aboriginals. Still the scene was one with a lot of different people speaking a lot of different languages.

The amazing part of the story is that the were communicating. Those who spoke different languages were amazed to hear someone else speaking their native tongues.

I can’t help but notice the contrast between the scene described in the book of Acts with the scenes on the Internet from the last five nights in cities across the United States. We have a church member who is in Minneapolis who has been posting video on Facebook of what he is witnessing. What starts out as peaceful protest devolves into arson, damage and looting. People are shouting and screaming at one another, but there isn’t much communication going on in the videos. People are afraid and running and it feels like the normal boundaries of community and society are breaking down.

The horrible death of George Floyd while being arrested, with a police officer kneeling on his neck as three other officers stood by without offering assistance to the dying man has brought tensions to a boiling point, not just in Minneapolis, but in cities across our nation. The President has urged healing, but only after threatening more violence. Los Angeles, Denver, New York, Atlanta, Chicago, Indianapolis, Philadelphia, Miami, Portland, Louisville, San Francisco - not exactly “every nation under heaven” - but the list of cities erupting in violence is long and large.

It seems as if it is the opposite of Pentecost. Everyone is speaking and yelling and acting and no one is understanding. Lines of communication are breaking down and we are sliding into chaos and violence. And people are afraid: afraid of becoming victims; afraid that the violence will spread to other cities; afraid that nothing will change; afraid that racism is so deeply entrenched in our society that there no longer is a solution.

Centuries ago, our people were facing the political collapse of the Jewish monarchy. Leadership had failed to understand the threats to the nation from external forces and from internal corruption.Prophets warned, but change ddi not come in time. The result was defeat and exile and the destruction of Jerusalem. Isaiah said that even when the word of God was “sent against Jacob and it fell on Israel and all the people knew it” they responded with pride and arrogance. Adversaries arose against them and they were defeated. And in the midst of what may have been the most frightening and devastating time in the history of Israel the prophet, while issuing harsh words of condemnation, also give a vision of hope that has endured through all of the time since: “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

Christians have applied those words to Jesus of Nazareth, the one crucified and risen - the focus of our stories and seasons. We have spoken of a second coming and waiting seems to be one of the marks of the faith these days, not unlike the waiting for the messiah that characterizes prophetic literature.

Wouldn’t it be a good time for a prince of peace right now?

The sentence that immediately precedes this veery important vision seems to describe our cities today, “For all the boots of the trampling warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire.” That is the verse that came to my mind as I looked at pictures of burning police cars and a police station and a post office lit on fire. God’s judgment on arrogance and oppression described by Isaiah bears a striking resemblance to the scenes we see playing out on our computers and television screens.

Pentecost 2020 seems to be calling for voices of calm and peace and clarity. Despite the seeming chaos of everyone speaking a different language, the report of the first Pentecost includes those who hear and understand. In the mist of the scene of a mighty wind and divided tongues as of fire there is the report that there were people who were listening and understanding.

I dream that Pentecost might bring listening and understanding to our country.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!