Hail, Festival Day! And grace and peace this holiday weekend of Memorial Day, of course, and on the church calendar the Eighth and last Sunday in the long reach of Easter. Whitsunday: Pentecost. Balloons and bright red paraments and Sunday School cakes to celebrate the Birthday of the Church, great choir anthems, organ fanfares and liturgical alleluias.
Ten days after the first Passover and God’s Chosen People, the descendants of Jacob, have been lifted from their bondage in Egypt, and saved through the parted waters of the Red Sea, and delivered by God’s mighty hand to the base of Mount Sinai. And then Moses begins his steep ascent skyward, up the mountain and into the clouds, in deep and personal communion with the Almighty. And 40 Days later he returns—cradled in his arms the great Tablets of the Law, God’s word for God’s people.
Fifty Days from Passover, this long gestation and pilgrimage, and then Pentecost! In Hebrew, Shavuot. The spring festival to be kept from that day forward, the giving of God’s Word Written, his very breath the finger that carved the text of the holy Covenant. Torah.
The sign of this promise, “I will be your God, and you will be my people.” The poetic association as well of the spring planting season. As the farmer plants seed in the earth, to bring an abundant harvest, so God plants his word in the hearts of his people. To bring forth new life in him.
And it was on Shavuot, as here in this second chapter of the Book of Acts—on Shavuot, on the Festival Day of Pentecost, that the friends of Jesus are gathered in one place, in that Upper Room that we have come to know so well, from Maundy Thursday and all the way through the life of this Easter season. Leaning forward in anticipation after the amazing experience of the Mount of the Ascension, has they had been instructed, to see what will come next.
And then the promise of Jesus, that he would come to them in a new and fresh way is fulfilled, like a rush of wind, filling the room with electricity, bright flames, energy. Lo, I am with you always. The Holy Spirit will come upon you. Comforter and Advocate, Companion and Guide. Very God of very God.
Balloons and bright red paraments and Sunday School cakes, great choir anthems, organ fanfares and Easter alleluias. That all seems just right. The Lord and Giver of life. Who proceedeth from the Father and the Son. With the Father and Son together, worshiped and glorified. Who spake by the Prophets.
I was sorry to miss church at St. Andrew’s last Sunday—though Susy and I were glad that our Bed and Breakfast was right around the corner from St. Stephen’s Church, in Westborough, Massachusetts. We were able to walk over in the morning and share in a wonderful service there for the Sunday after The Ascension before heading out into the afternoon of our Linnea’s graduation from the Tufts Vet School.
But Phil and Garrett were both kind enough to share their sermons from Sunday—Phil in the morning, Garrett at Evensong—so that I could post them on my Rector’s Page sermon blog. And just so very meaningful to read both of them.
Phil reaching into the word of Jesus and his promise of the Holy Spirit at the Mount of the Ascension, and to say that even as that word was spoken it was already fulfilled in the precious word of Scripture itself. As we confess in the Creed, “He has spoken through the Prophets.” A reminder that the Spirit lives in us and among us in every syllable of God’s Word, every fragment of Sunday School memory verse, every Biblical echo of Prayer Book liturgy. A reminder that the reader who stands at the Lectern to read God’s Word to God’s People is in the same place as the minister of the Holy Communion, in the administration of bread and cup.
A reminder that as we eat and drink and commune in the fullness of his presence in his written Word, so our lives our nourished and our minds and our hearts are changed and renewed. Phil quoted Archbishop Cranmer’s great Collect for the Second Sunday of Advent, as we now have it in the last set of Propers right before the beginning of Advent. This classic Anglican meditation on the truth of Scripture as God’s Incarnate presence. Of these Holy Scriptures, “Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them.” --Inwardly digest. So that as the saying goes, “you are what you eat.” We become what we hear, as we hear him speak, take in his Word.
And Garrett’s very fine sermon at Evensong last Sunday, moving also from the Mount of the Ascension to the affirmation of the Creed, “He is seated at the right hand of the Father.” That in the Ascension, the truth that Jesus doesn’t so much leave his disciples as he does lift them up with him in anticipation of God’s Kingdom and the fullness of his glory. This vision that Garrett called “radical.” Transformational.
Two Mountains, one at the beginning of the Story, in Exodus, and one at the end of the Story, in Acts. Torah and Ascension, Word and Spirit. Shavuot and Pentecost. All one story. Creation and New Creation. God in action.
And as I’ve shared in my recurring reflections on “Acts 29,” not a story that ends long ago and far away. Our story. To us and for us and about us. I think when I saw that magazine, Acts 29, in the library of St. Mark’s Berkeley all those decades ago, and in the moment a few hours later when the significance of that title popped like a lightbulb, there was this moment when the ground for me just seemed to shift a little bit. I wasn’t “slain in the Spirit” and singing in tongues—and I didn’t rush out into the street like Peter and the others to shout the news. As Garrett pointed out correctly last Saturday: we are, after all Episcopalians. I say that I’m descended from a long line of Introverted Northern European Males, and that is something of the DNA that so often characterizes our Anglican inheritance. A sense of decorum and restrain and understatement.
But if there’s a day to whoop and holler, to see our own names written in the pages of Acts 29, to rush out into the highways and byways, like those first Christians, our mothers and fathers, all of us with them to babble and sing, to tell the story of Jesus, to declare the great things God has done, it is today, Whitsunday, Pentecost, Shavuot.
Quietly, reasonably, and with restraint, of course. Rite I, plainsong . . . .
The Child’s name was to be called Emmanuel, God with us, and the whole reality of his story returns again and again to that name, from the Manger to the Cross, from last December to this morning, from the Empty Tomb to the Garden to the Upper Room and to the Mountaintop, and now that name opens for us and settles in with us. Look at that wonderful Clara Miller Burd Ascension Window here in this North Transept as hours go by and days and year after year, and nothing changes, because he is lifted up, but he doesn't really anywhere. On high, at the right hand of the Father. Yet truly here with us. At the Lectern and on the Holy Table, on our lips and in our hearts. Flowing outward from us, in word and action: the love of God, in Jesus Christ our Lord. Whitsunday, Pentecost.
The to hear in our minds and hearts, our imaginations, all our lives, the prayer of the old Pentecost hymn: Breathe on me, Breath of God, till I am wholly thine, till all this earthly part of me glows with thy fire divine.