Pentecost

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A great ball of fire descends from heaven and crashes towards earth, it is Pentecost. (I made that up.)

What marvels first about this day is that Mary and the Apostles a locked in a room with the wind blowing outside. It sounds as if they are weathering a storm. I first think fear, but then I think again. I think of wind blowing across the sea and of a breath across water, God is with them. It’s the breath of life. God is with them and they learned the nature of God from their LORD. What do they fear? God is with them.

Pentecost is not unique to the New Testament, the feast does follow Jewish tradition. Perhaps the Old celebration might shed some light on the new? Some research might be required. The Jewish feast is Shavuot and is the final celebration of a grain harvest that lasted seven weeks. Last week was the seventh Sunday of Easter. Coincidence? No. Pentecost is a harvest festival, and particularly the harvest of wheat. The gathering in that upper room is the first Apostles, the first harvest. From the Old celebration an image of wheat and bread begins to appear. It’s the first harvest of wheat and suddenly the gospel of the multiplication of loaves and fishes enters the subconscious. These Apostles are the first but they will multiply. Pentecost, wheat, bread; they are all related. Pentecost is known as the birth of the Church. Interesting story; Shavuot celebrates the grain harvest, Sukkot celebrates the fruit harvest. If I recall correctly Sukkot is at the same time as the transfiguration. Bread and wine.

Pentecost, Shavuot, in the older tradition celebrates something other than an agricultural harvest. It also celebrates the receiving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. To one group the receiving of law, the other Spirit. A new creation, a new testament. A wind blows outside, Jesus enters the room through closed doors. The barrier between heaven and earth is shattered. What was closed is now opened. It is more than the barrier between heaven and earth that disappears. The reading of today tells of the Tower of Babel. That tower was destroyed and tongues confused because those people tied to become gods. At Pentecost the tongues are understood. Although many languages are spoken, they can all understand. Sometimes I think of that tower destroyed so that man might shut up and listen, in that upper room they listen and understand. A bridge between heaven and earth, a bridge between nations. Creation restored. I can’t miss the story if creation with that wind blowing outside. I also remember Noah’s storm.

With all of this babble, what was the message that the Lord gives as he enters through those closed doors. The first is simply “Peace be with you.” How often does that message become lost among men pretending to become gods? To allow for peace is to shatter the barriers of hostility and hatred. Peace turns a raging storm into a breath of fresh air. That storm outside can either be a torrent of fear and destruction or the breath of life. Jesus’s second message? “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” It is a message that gives a path to peace. A breath of fresh air that sustains life, not destroys it. Odd to think how dark and frightening the Pentecost story is with all doors shut and windows shuttered. What a refreshing difference once they are opened. I becomes a breath of fresh air. The breath of life revisited.

7 (seven)

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Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost; why three separate feasts, and which is the more important? Easter certainly gets the most attention, it is the first celebration after a long somber penitential season. Not that many are somber or penitential prior to Easter, but that’s social commentary. Smirk. Easter is the realization that Jesus has risen. It’s theological, it is a testament of the Apostles. It is what they observed. Realization might not be the proper word simply because it is slanted towards intellect and reason. Easter is not reasoning but fact. The Lord has risen, the Apostles testify to that. Still, I use that word reason. It’s for discussion. A risen Lord is recognized, move on.

The next event in the trilogy is Ascension. If in part one the Apostles recognize Jesus has risen, part two is the recognition that Jesus is LORD. It is a transition from smoldering ember to roaring fire. It becomes somewhat visible in the Easter vigil. If Easter is the lighting of the Pascal Candle, Ascension is every candle ignited. One a thought, the other a proclamation. It is the journey from realizing Jesus has risen, to realizing Jesus is LORD. It is a leap from body to spirit, human to divine. If Easter is festive, Ascension is majestic. But what about part three? This is a trilogy.

Let’s use a common theme. From smoldering ember to roaring fire, but what then? How about something cosmic, something dramatic. Something supernatural. Let’s remember also the mindset of the Apostles. Hell, Earth, Heaven. Hell is the underworld, the world beneath our feet. Earth is where we stand. Heaven is the stars. To them the world is visual, both this life and the next. Jesus ascends to heaven, but is also present here. Mind boggling. A Möbius strip of astronomical proportions. A folding of time and space. The stuff of Physics. Back to the story. From ember to fire, then what? How about meteor or comet propelled towards earth. A heavenly God collides with earth. The Holy Spirit descends, and earth is forever changed. I don’t understand why parts two and three are not celebrated more, they are enormous events.

This space in time is a preparation for that cosmic collision, it is time to prepare for the Holy Spirit. The first reading Acts 1:12-14 tells that the disciples were to go to that upper room and pray. They are given a commandment. Pray for the Holy Spirit. That makes this week, one that does not contain any major feasts so important. Commentary: the importance of this week gets lost when Ascension Thursday gets shifted to the seventh Sunday. The message this week is to pray. In the trilogy the first to events are observations, for the third to occur requires an action. Assemble together and PRAY.

Observation, and Action. Active and contemplative. Prayer contains both. It is call and response. Prayer is asking and listening. Important too that the LORD commanded that they assemble, that their prayers might gain strength. That they might not be extinguished by a hostile world. Interesting to think that at the resurrection each person’s encounter was personal. At the ascension all those that were privileged to that encounter gathered to witness the LORDS ascension. At the third event, they gather to pray in unison with a common desire. From scattered to unified. It continues. Oh, that number seven? It means divine perfection or completion. This is the seventh Sunday of Easter.

P.S. Throughout here I use terms of cosmic, images of astronomical. One set of readings that is part of the season is the book of Revelation. I can’t write that well, but that book describes these events in cosmic and astronomical terms. It is apocalyptic. Today it is common thinking, dogma, catechism. Sometimes simply thought of a Catholic. Catholic, that word comes from universal and sometimes that gets mistaken as one size fits all. Pedestrian, common, universal. Wrong. Think instead of universal as of the universe. Enormous and infinite and wondrous and all encompassing. It is of the stars and of the heavens and galaxies. Much bigger than us. Majestic and wondrous. Just a thought.

rough draft #1

The ups and downs of eternity

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Ok, I get it. An angel falls and a serpent slithers up a tree. Cain versus Abel, and Joseph into slavery, an exile and an exodus. Free will and good versus evil. Challenges and pitfalls. Pitfalls and a very (very) deep pit. Pushed into a cistern, and pushed to hell. A struggle to rise. It is the grand battle, and a grand chaos of a fallen order. I understand a messiah in the simplest of terms. I understand leaders like Moses, like Caesar, like Herod, like a pharaoh; and ultimately like the Son of God. I can understand the messiah of the nativity. I understand the messiah of Easter, and the need for the Apostles to record the resurrection of Christ. I understand they did so to the best of their abilities. I can also understand the Messiahs need to ascend, and the amount of time Jesus spent explaining His return to the Father. Finally I get the Holy Spirit, and how it proceeds from the Father and Son. With that ascent and decent, the serpent is crushed. That is the end game, the conclusion.

Jesus said to his disciples:
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
And I will ask the Father,
and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always,
the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept,
because it neither sees nor knows him.
But you know him, because he remains with you,
and will be in you.
I will not leave you orphans

The feast of the Ascension and Pentecost defuse the other Messiahs. It steals their thunder, it silences their voice. It allows, in the quietness of contemplation, one to hear the truth. It explains why at the resurrection only a few select followers were permitted entry to the vision. To see they first had to seek. They had to die themselves, so that they might rise anew. They had to answer that first call to “follow me.” Follow me was through cavalry, and into the grave. It was to walk with Christ, and to die to the world. It also was to rise again, and to see anew. There was the vision of a risen LORD. It was the journey of their baptism, their death and life.

This is a transition, from Easter to Ascension. It is a transition of a God that needs to rise on earth and be present here. That speaks of an eternal presence, and eternity is nothing easy to understand. It is a presence that is alpha and omega, first and last. Eternal. The transition is also one where the physical transitions to the eternal. That ascension leaves no room for false prophet, it does make that path for spirit. Eternal is not something easy to understand.

Sixth Sunday of Easter
Lectionary: 55

Acts 8:5-8, 14-17

1 Pt 3:15-18

Jn 14:15-21

Pentecost.

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Locked in an upper room. Winds howling, angry mobs clamoring below. Fearful agony, and that room becomes a tomb. The winds shift and then enters a Holy Spirit, the Spirit of promise. Their fear is set on fire and turns to passion. They burst forth from that room to preach to the ends of the earth. The image of that room as a tomb cannot escape me, and neither can the thought of the disciples leaving that room. Crossing the threshold from death to life. A Church is born. The tomb of Christ, the orthodox priest exits with candles ablaze. Christ, the light of the world. That same image is of the disciples leaving the upper room. Tongues of Fire, Christ enters their souls and they become beacons. The Nativity, they are born a Church. The Crucifixion, the angry mobs and they defeat death. They defeat it through the Holy Spirit, a baptism of sorts, and water is often a sign of that Spirit. Remember the baptism of our LORD? The water, and the dove that emerged from the heavens. There is that bird Noah sent out too. The wind, the water, the bird and the fire. The Holy Spirit. The breath of life. The priest breaths across the baptismal waters. The Almighty breathes into a lump of clay. The priest speaks into a chalice. The breath of the Lord enters the disciples. Life.

The fear in the upper room, can anyone hear their pleading? Oh God save us! They called out in anguish, and He listened. Their call was answered, just as the LORD promised. But they needed to ask, to be receptive. They needed that passion so that out of fear could emerge love. The love of God. He time, fifty days, a time of devotion and reflection. A seed planted and that seed must die if it is to bear any fruit. The ground is broken, and a bud emerges. The Church. It grows and the birds nest in its branches, the faith the size of a mustard seed. A tree watered by the stream grows mighty indeed. The Holy Spirit.

The tree that emerges, the one that breaks through the ground. The seed that died. What is the purpose of that tree? It is to bear fruit, and if it does not it is fed to the fire. The disciples mission as they cross the threshold of the upper room? It is to bear fruit, to preach the good news and to deliver a bountiful harvest to the LORD. It is about the mission they were given, and they are guided by that spirit of Christ. They will be known as Christians. At first they spoke many languages, a confusion and lost, but now united by one spirit. United, universalis, Catholic. Neither Jew nor gentile, Roman or Greek, or Syrian; but Christian, Catholic united under one God. One God in three persons. The Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Pentecost.

Pentecost

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The magi see and follow a bright light in the distant sky and that is the celestial beginning of this feast of Pentecost. That star points to the origin of the God of heaven that was born on earth, and at the ascension that God born  man returned to His heavenly Father in Heaven. This feast commemorates to the Israelites the deliverance of Gods commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai. To Christians, it commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit onto the disciples. It is the descent of the advocate that Jesus promised to deliver.

To some it is the birthday of the Church, but how can the birth of that Church be confined to a day? Also, and more importantly those flames did not descend over a building, the flames descended upon individual disciples. Think back to the Easter vigil, and that paschal candle that represents the light of Christ. Think then of that flame lighting the candle held by every parishioner present. There then is the Church, not defined by a building but by the contrast of those many lights against the darkness.Contrast that with the temple of Jerusalem, the spirit sent by Christ did not enter a building. The Holy Spirit entered the individual. It spoke directly to the person. How far that light of the star that the magi followed had traveled. This feast day is the pinnacle of Christ’s mission, that God and man might be reunited. That the God of the heavens might dwell among us till the end of time.

That light that descends is the advocate, the counselor, a guide as a light is a guide through darkness. It is the wisdom of God, the wisdom of Christ, it is the good news of the Gospel put to practice. That spirit is evident in the readings of Acts of the Apostles that chronicle the early days of the Church. That spirit should be the guiding light of the same Church today. The wisdom of the gospel, put into practice today. It is a spirit and a light that should be visible in every Christian today. A light to guide them, and to offer guidance to others.Veni, Sancte Spiritus.

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Thy faithful and enkindle in them the fire of Thy love. Send forth Thy Spirit and they shall be created.  And Thou shalt renew the face of the earth. Let us pray. O God, Who didst instruct the hearts of the faithful by the light of the Holy Spirit, grant us in the same Spirit to be truly wise, and ever to rejoice in His consolation. Through Christ our Lord.

This feast day does not get the attention of the other Great feasts of Christmas and Easter, but it should. This day though might not be best represented by lavish decorations or celebrations. It is a day best represented by prayer, and by liturgy. They are reminders for that spirit to descend upon us every day, and of the diligence needed to awaken that same spirit. The day should function as a reminder of who should be summoned whenever one steps into a building of Christ’s Church. Come Holy Spirit. It is the cry of the Mass, and a cry for salvation. That Holy Spirit should be seen in every flickering flame, a reminder of who Christ sent. A reminder of Jesus Christ’s promise to remain with us till the end of time. Come Holy Spirit. Vine Sancte Spiritus.