Year C, Pentecost
May 18, 2013
The Reverend Dr. Brent Was
Welcome to Whitsuntide! Welcome to Pentecost! Pentecost means “the 50th Day.” We inherited it from our Jewish ancestors, it was a festival held 50 days after the second day of Passover. It is now celebrated as the harvest festival shavout, or Weeks. That is what Luke is talking about in our passage from Acts. In the Anglican communion, it is traditionally called Whitsunday, from old English meaning “White Sunday,” probably referring to the white robes traditionally worn by the catecumate at baptism. Traditionally Whitsuntide, the Vigil of Pentecost in particular, was a time for Baptisms, much like the Easter Vigil, principal feasts of our Lord.
Let’s step back a minute and see where we are in the world seasonally speaking. We are at Pentecost right now. But our church calendar starts back in December with____? Advent. Advent is a pensive season marked by the Marian blue (purple or violet is also allowed). We are doing what? Waiting. Preparing. And for what? ___ For the incarnation of our Lord and Savior which comes precisely on the 25th of December each year with its snow white vestments. It is a fixed holiday, a solar holiday linked to a specific day followed by the brief season of Christmas. We then move into the Epiphany, the time between the end of the 12 days of Christmas and the beginning of Lent. Epiphany is a time of noticing, of the realization of the presence of God and the consequences of God’s definitive intersection with this world in the form of a person in 1st century Palestine.
As Epiphany concludes with the cupboard clearing feast of Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras to our more adventurous Roman Catholic brothers and sisters, we break out the royal purple, adorn ourselves with ashes, and commence with the deepest fasting season we have in our calendar, the Season of Lent. In Lent we reflect on Jesus Christ, on the love he shows for humanity and how humanity repays that love. And always, we are repenting, fasting, preparing for the death of Jesus Christ at our own human hands which we relive poignantly in the red and black of Holy week.
But the blood and death of the passion are of course pushed aside, the old leaven of malice and hatred are replaced with the new unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. On the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox, a lunar holiday, we celebrate the glorious and moveable Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord: Easter. Decked in white we bask in the glory of God in Christ’s new presence with us in the wake of the resurrection. Forty days after Easter we remember Christ’s Ascension into heaven where He sits at the right hand of the Father, and ten days later, the fiftieth day, we are right here, right now, Whitsunday, the remembrance of the particular entrance of the Holy Spirit in to the world, its alighting on the hearts, minds and bodies of Jesus Christ’s followers in a new way. The Feast of Pentecost celebrates the consecration, the founding, the birthday if you will of the church. And after the red of this day, we slip into the cool green of what season? Ordinary time. Ordinary time takes up half of the church calendar, from Pentecost all the way through to Christ the King Sunday, the end of the church year, gateway to yet another Advent when the glorious cycle starts all over again.
From purple to white to purple to white, a day of Red, then into the long green season. From preparing and waiting to basking in a new incarnation of God, we then begin the long descent towards death, then reveling in the resurrection, we send Jesus off and straight away welcome the coming of the Holy Spirit into our midst, consecrating the Church. And then, we enter ordinary time.
The trajectory of the church year makes immanent sense. The drama of God’s participation, intersection, interaction, presence… whatever words work for you, we learn, understand, take on, participate in, become the story, inhabit the story through the very arc of the drama of the story itself. Here Robert Heinlein’s word grok is useful. To grok is “to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes part of the observed.” The narrative, if we allow it, if we grok it, envelopes us, and we become it, or it becomes part and parcel of us and we of it. It is marvelous, and we mark the movement of the seasons with colors, seasonal candles, prayers and music. The liturgy can shift dramatically, like not saying confession in the Eastertide, or having different words welcome us to Mass, or banning the word Halleluiah in Lent. But all of the drama, the story of our faith, the story of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, all we have done for the past six months, all of it, it culminates in today, and then flows across the weeks and months of Ordinary Time until we start the cycle again. Because today, Whitsunday, and the Ordinary Time that follows, that is were we are formed as the Church.
Now by church, I mean church with the big “c”. One holy catholic and apostolic church, of which we are but a tiny mote in a vast sea of Christian practice, life and service. That is what today is about, Whitsunday, standing here on the precipice of Ordinary Time, the life and work of the church, the daily practice, life and service of 2 billion people gathered in faith. From here, imprinted with story of Jesus Christ, groking it even, we move on to our great work.
What is it, the work we have been given to do as a church? Why are we here? What and how should we be working on as the body of Christ? Knowing all we know, groking the life of Jesus Christ as the movement of our calendar has again dramatically taught us, how then shall we be church together? This is a serious question. We put a lot of time and effort into making this happen. I’m expensive. This building is expensive. We all spend collectively hundreds of perishable hours each week on keeping this embassy of the Kingdom of God open. So what are we, this tiny mote in the 2 billion strong sea of Christianity, what are we supposed to do in Ordinary Time, in real life? What is the purpose of the Church?_____
I am going to depart from our regular course here and put the manuscript aside. What are we doing here, being church? What does the idea of “The Body of Christ” mean? Why are we in this together, in church, together? because that is the key word in all of this, together. And this is a word of particular importance as we discern together if I am to stay on as your rector. Why are we all in church together?
Final Prayer. Prayer 7., For the Church p. 816