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DYING AND LIVING, THE PENTECOSTAL HOPE.

The Feast of Pentecost – we used to call it Whitsunday – starts us off with a bang! However by the time we reach the end of the Sundays after Pentecost we’ll be sick and tired of the whole season. I know, it’s not technically a season. It just sounds like one. Pentecost ends the great days of Easter, completes Easter if you will.

I regret we have dropped the old Sundays after Trinity. But that is another story. Part of the problem of our exhaustion stems from our personalizing the tasks expected of us. In the jargon of the present we assume we are on a spiritual “journey”, perhaps with others, but nonetheless alone. We think in terms of faith helping us to discover ourselves – as if we had lost ourselves somewhere! We are to find our “inner reality” perhaps helped by getting into “spirituality”. Perhaps we think that if we manage all this we’ll be allowed into heaven.

There’s nothing wrong in any of these quests in themselves. Certainly we “find ourselves” as we realize who made us, why we were made, and what we are to become. Certainly spirituality is important as we surround ourselves in the unceasing prayers of the church which joins heaven and earth in praise and thanksgiving. It is when they become objects in themselves, divorced from the life witness and purpose of the church that they become futile attempts to gain life.

Isn’t it odd that the New Testament says very little about this sort of thing? The day of Pentecost, in the Early Church, was the day in which everyone celebrated the coming of the Kingdom. In Jesus, what we call heaven and what we call earth; what we call God, and what we call humanity, uniquely came together. Nothing has been the same since. God ‘s purpose is to restore heaven and earth, to make all things new. We together are called to be examples and spokes-persons for that which is to come. The power of the Holy Spirit is not given to each one of us in order that we may find ourselves, or fulfil ourselves or even get us to heaven. The power is given to us in order that we may be witnesses, life givers, to the fact that God’s purposes are unfolding. We are called, as were the Apostles, to go into all the world. In that world, although not of that world, we are to tell the story and make disciples, baptising them and incorporating them into the new kingdom. Nor is this merely a spiritual mission. In transforming people, we embrace our duty to guard all things created and to work for justice and peace, not because we can, by ourselves usher in the kingdom, but because the kingdom is and we are to be examples of what it will be like eventually.

If we as a church could only get back to being what we were created to be, many of the things which seem so vital, so important, that divide us into warring camps, would assume their proper relevance, defined not in terms of rights and entitlements, but in terms of duty and service, of life giving witness to the kingdom which is and which is to come.

As for going to heaven, that’s God’s business. Living and dying is something which happens to us all. But it isn’t a once-only happening. Rather dying and living is the daily experience of the church and of us all. In his book, THE JOY OF THE SAINTS, Richard Llewelyn writes:

“I recall when I was newly ordained being pulled up sharply when I misquoted the verse which says that we must lose our lives in order to find them. In fact Jesus said no such thing. We are not bidden to die in order that we may live -this is to be no nicely calculated venture embarked upon in order to bring in rich returns – but rather in the Pauline phrase, it is a matter of ‘dying and behold we live’. What is asked of us looks like loss, has every appearence of loss, and in the nakedness of faith the plunge is taken. Jesus did not die on the Cross in order that he might rise again. He died, was truly dead, and behold God raised him. Here is an illustration which has application to every aspect of the Christian life. With St. Paul the saints die daily, and with every death there is a rising to a fuller measure of the resurrection life. So by many deaths they are prepared – as we shall be too -for the final plunge into the ocean of God’s love.

Before that moment we often experience little deaths, many of which are beyond our control. This is also true of the church at large. Things which seem vital seem to die on us just as they do at home, in the family, at work, in the parish. Then there are those things we offer up, because they harm us, or annoy us, or deflect us. The wider church is asked to risk offering up that which many have fought for, for the good of the many. In our local parishes we are urged to give up our comfort-level, our introversion, our snobbish “Episcopalianism”. Yet in all these deaths, whether done to us, or offered by us, we discover that there is new life. Things offered are often returned transformed and renewed.

Then there will be that final plunge taking us out of time and space into the new heaven and the new earth which has always been God’s purpose and plan, as the Fall is reversed and all things are made new.

One Response

  1. Fr Tony, your thoughts are, as always, profound. I will quibble only with the beginning, wherein you profess discomfort with the “season” that “starts off with a bang” on the Day of Pentecost. I fear you are trying to put new wine into old wineskins–i.e. impose a pre-1979 BCP paradigm onto the 1979 BCP calendar. The Day of Pentecost is not the beginning of a season–it is the conclusion of a season: the Great Fifty Days of Easter. “Pentecost” is not a governing rubric that characterizes the long time between then and Advent; it is simply a marker. In this case, I think our Roman cousins are on to something, styling the season simply Ordinary Time.

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