Grace and peace on this Feast Day of the Holy Spirit--the conclusion and grand finale of 10 days of Ascensiontide and the long and rich 50-Day Easter Season. Trumpets and flourishes. A dazzling moment. The traditional name “Whitsunday” from “White Sunday,” and referring to the historical status of this day as a baptismal festival, in those ancient days when the liturgical colors for the day would have been not Red for the Spirit but all Easter resurrection white and gold, in the fresh baptismal robes of the newly baptized.
The holiday Shavu’ot, on the Jewish calendar 50 days after Passover, the celebration of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, and in all ways the perfect day for Holy Spirit. A perfect day. My childhood friend Martin Cohen, now a professor of anthropology out in California, told me the other day that if on Thanksgiving we all enjoy turkey and pumpkin pie, on Shavu’ot Jews customarily eat cheese blintzes and cheese cakes. Very lovely, and a Pentecost tradition I’d like our Hospitality Team to consider for next year!
Why a menu in milk and cheese? You can look that up. In Hebraic imagery “the Torah, God’s Word, is likened to milk, as the verse says, "Like honey and milk [the Torah] lies under your tongue" (Song of Songs 4:11). Just as milk has the ability to fully sustain the body of a human being (i.e. a nursing baby), so too the Torah provides all the ‘spiritual nourishment’ necessary for the human soul.” [aish.com]
Whitsunday. Pentecost. In the Old Covenant the Torah is the instrument that transforms and guides and nourishes the Chosen People in the way of holiness and in relationship with God. The Torah that is the source of identity and purpose for God’s Israel. And now in the New Covenant given at the Cross and confirmed in Easter we are all in faith gathered in by the Spirit of that same God and made a new people, a chosen nation, a royal priesthood, and now we ourselves just like the first disciples that afternoon in Jerusalem marked as Christ’s own forever and sent forth to do the work he has given us to do, to preach, to teach, to bind up the brokenhearted, to forgive and to bless. Our identity, our purpose. The New Covenant doesn’t replace the Old, of course. God speaks himself in the Word of Scripture. But in these latter days, he speaks himself afresh in the Son, and in the midst of our he speaks himself in the Holy Spirit. The Torah and God’s one holy Word continues to stand in its definitive way in our midst. Now fulfilled and perfected. Shavu’ot, Whitsunday, Pentecost.
And in the New Testament reading for this Pentecost morning, with all the jumble of the many tongues of the Gospel echoing around us, Jesus says, “as the Father sends me, so I send you.”
It’s a bit of a turn-around. So often we talk about our lives as Christians in vocabulary about where we “go.” A new neighbor might notice that our car rolls out of the driveway regularly on Sunday mornings and ask, “Where do you go to church?” And we might reply, and I hope we would, “St. Andrew’s—it’s a great church, and perhaps you’d like to come with us next Sunday?”
But Jesus on that first Easter evening isn’t saying, “this is a really great Upper Room, and I hope you all will keep coming back here Sunday after Sunday, and bring your friends.” Let’s hear that as we get read to celebrate the great conclusion of our “Opening Doors” campaign this September. Jesus doesn’t say, “come back here.” He says, “as the Father sends me, now I am sending you.” Out from here, unlocking the locked doors, and certainly as we heard in the traditional reading from Acts this morning, out into the streets, out where the people are who aren’t in the Upper Room with them. Who haven’t heard the news. Who are lost, broken, hurting, and without the slightest idea how to move out of that psychological underworld, the realm of the dead. Who yearn even though they don’t have the words for that honest meeting, not for pleasing superficial feel-good affirmation, but for a real assessment, and for the possibility not of another anaesthetic, but for real healing, real peace, mercy and forgiveness.
This day not about where we go on Sunday mornings, but about where Jesus sends us, about the people, the life-situations, waiting for his presence. Waiting in darkness for the light of his Holy Spirit, which would be burning and shining forth in us like those tongues of fire over the disciples as they tumbled out the door all those centuries ago to tell the news.
Nothing small about this. Not just crumbs falling from the table. But cheesecake! Cheese blintzes! ““the Torah, God’s Word, is likened to milk, as the verse says, "Like honey and milk [the Torah] lies under your tongue" (Song of Songs 4:11). Just as milk has the ability to fully sustain the body of a human being (i.e. a nursing baby), so too the Torah provides all the ‘spiritual nourishment’ necessary for the human soul.” [aish.com]
What the soul needs, what the world is yearning for. To whom we are sent. From this place. Doors opening out, swinging wide. For what the world needs. Jesus. The one who is the first and the last. What you and I need first, who we need first: and then out in expanding circles, wider and wider. Going out from here: Whitsunday, Shavu’ot, Pentecost. And in him, reaching out through us, healing, peace, mercy, forgiveness.
Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.