The Lord is risen! His Spirit continues with us.

He is Risen! A Community of Witnesses.

The Lord is risen! His Spirit continues with us.


With Pentecost Sunday, the Church celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Lord is risen and is now with the Father, but His Spirit continues with us. We are not a Church that spends its time remembering the things of the past, as if nostalgically closed in some type of glorious past, remembering the days when the Lord Jesus lived and walked among us… Much to the contrary, we are a Church that celebrates a memory, that makes present an absence – through the Spirit still with us, that same fire which animated the life and mission of Jesus and animates now the life and mission of the Church, that is, the life and mission of each one of us and of the communities to which we belong. 


In the first lesson for this Sunday, taken from Acts 2:1-21, Luke presents us with the coming of the Spirit upon the apostles as promised by Jesus Himself. We could divide our text into three parts: 1. The coming of the Holy Spirit (2:1-4); 2. The miracle of the tongues (2:5-11); and 3. The people’s reaction with Peter’s discourse, standing together with the eleven (2:11-21).

In the first part, Luke presents us with a theophany, that is, with a revelation of the divine, very much like the revelation on Mount Sinai. The strong wind and the fire evoke the presence of God and, now, it is the community that receives the New Law: the Spirit of the Lord. How interesting that the New Law is not written in stone tablets or in parchment sheets… it is the Spirit of Life in the hearts of women and men. Here we think of Ezequiel’s prophecy: “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances.  You shall dwell in the land which I gave to your fathers; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God” (36:26-28). Yes! Now we definitely have a new heart – it is the heart of the Lord! Yes! Now we have been renewed with a new fire – the fire of Spirit of the Lord!


In the second part, we find out that each person who heard the apostles proclaim the wonders of God, heard it in their own language. Everyone is surprised. This is not some type of “mass rally” where the preacher preaches in one language and hopes it will “fit all”. No. Each person is considered individually and respected in her or his language and because speaking a language is not just a matter of saying words, it is also a respect of each person’s culture.

 

In the third part of our text, Peter, together with the eleven (v.14), answers those present starting with the prophesy of Joel and continuing with the kerygma (the verses where Peter presents the kerygma are not part of our text, these are vv.22-36). The coming of the Spirit is indeed an event of the last days, the days when “the young will have visions and the old will have dreams” (v.17).

In the gospel lesson, from John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15, we continue with the spiritual testament of Jesus, during the last supper, with His friends. Jesus is saying His farewell and announces, for the fifth time, the coming of the Advocate (vv.12-15). Jesus knows that they will need help, that they will need guidance, to deepen everything He told them, especially the witnessing of His life. ““I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (vv.12-13). Jesus knows that the full humanization of every human being is always a continuous process, a never-ending journey… it is the journey of discovering the Truth – the Truth about oneself/ourselves, about creation and, ultimately, about the Mystery of life and love. And, this is demanding – it demands fidelity to the cause for which Jesus offered His life, the cause of the kingdom of God. With the coming of the Spirit, the disciples know that His cause continues and it continues because He continues to be present through His Spirit. This is the cause of justice and compassion for all human beings and creation, that all human beings and creation may come to its fulfillment.


We can conclude our reflection now with two points: 


1. The Church is the witnessing community of the disciples of the Lord, filled with His Spirit, animated with His fire. With the coming of the Spirit, the disciples know now that they are to continue with the mission of the Lord. Now, it is their turn and they know that their mission is based on two fundamental affirmations: 1. The subversive memory of Jesus, who was crucified and rose on the third day, becoming Lord and Savior. This memory is not characterized by nostalgia or melancholy, but, rather, by subversion. Jesus was not at all happy with the “natural order of things” and He made this known with the gift of His life. His life was the reason of His crucifixion… let us never forget this! He not only questioned the natural order of things, which condemned so many people to exclusion and misery, suffering and death. He also offered an alternative – His life. We are called to do the same. The Church is not a club, happy with the way the world is going, happy with the great divide between haves and have-nots, between whites and blacks, between women and men… and so on. No. The Church is the community that dares to envision a different world – a world of justice and compassion for all human beings, especially those who have been and still are oppressed and marginalized, especially those who have been and still are crucified on the cross of injustice and indifference, of violence and impunity; and 2. That the Spirit continues with us. We are not alone and our mission is not ours as if it depended solely on our efforts. We are being accompanied by the Spirit of the Lord, the fire of love and life, the fire of justice and compassion. We are not to fear, but to be courageous, journeying with all women and men who have been “fired up” by the same Spirit. We are called to fearlessly name and interpret the “signs of our times” always in the light of the Spirit of the Lord. Our is not a Church of fear; we are a Church of courage! Ours is not a Church of the past; we are a Church of the present! Ours is not a Church of stillness; our is a Church of visions and dreams – the dream of a world filled with justice and compassion! 


2. In the Church we are all called to unity – a unity best characterized by communion, not uniformity. A community filled with the Spirit of the Lord is a community that values communion as unity in diversity. It is not a community filled with fear, that it must “close ranks with its members” as to become an army, ready to conquer the world. We are best characterized as a garden, not as an army!  For us, there is no “imperial language” that we must use as to impose “an imperial rule” on others, especially those who are different from us. When we look at our history… dear Lord! For centuries we were obsessed with empire and did impose one religious language and one culture on the rest of the known and discovered world… “Barbarians and savages” needed to be evangelized and a Euro-centered Church with a Hellenistic white Jesus was imposed on so many peoples. We didn’t know any better… and languages and cultures were destroyed. And entire peoples were reduced to poverty and, worse, enslaved and murdered. Christianity was transformed into Christendom! This happened here in Latin America and the wounds are still open. Remember the Inca prince Atahualpa (1497-1533)? When he refused to accept Christianity and asked the Spaniards why his people were being killed and their lands being robbed, he was simply captured and strangled… Remember the letter that the Ayamara and the Keshwa indigenous peoples of the Andes gave to Pope John Paul II, in 1985, upon his visit to Peru? Here it is: “We, the Indian people of the Andes and of the Americas, would like to take the occasion of your visit to return your Bible to you. After five centuries, it has not given us love, peace or justice. Please, take it back and give it to our oppressors. It seems that they need its morals precepts more than ourselves. Because, since the arrival of Christopher Columbus, what was imposed by force, here in the Americas, was one culture, one language and one religion and values proper to Europe. The Bible came to us a part of colonialism. The Bible was the ideological arm of this colonial assault. The Spanish sword which during the day would attack and kill the bodies of the Indians, at night it would transform itself into a cross which would attack the Indian soul” (Movimiento Indio Kollasuyo, Partido Indio y Movimiento Túpac Katari, de Bolivia y Perú. Open letter to Pope John Paul II, February of 1985).


As the Anglican Church, the spiritual arm of the British Empire, how did we fare in the Caribbean, in Africa, in India…? (Cf. A History of Global Anglicanism, Kevin Ward. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006; Beyond Colonial Anglicanism: The Anglican Communion in the Twenty-First Century, Ian T. Douglas and Kwok Pui-lan, eds. New York: Church Publishing Incorporated, 2001; and The Oxford History of Anglicanism. (Five volumes), Rowan String, general ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017).


The importance, therefore, of witnessing to the great deeds of God, while respecting other languages and cultures. The importance of listening… and discovering how the Spirit is also present in them, in their history, in their lives, in their visions and dreams.  They too are sacred. They too are places of revelation. They too are “sacred moments” (sacra-ments) of the presence of the Spirit of love and life, justice and compassion.


What echo does all of this have for us, here at Saint Luke’s Episcopal Church of Mérida? What is the quality of our communion and how are we affirming “the other” – the other sister and brother with her/his specific language and specific culture? How are we accepting each other and how are we celebrating our differences as gifts from God, as marvels of the love and life of God for us? Questions to ponder. Questions to pray with. Gentle musings for the journey…


Come Holy Spirit and fill the hearts of all peoples  thirsting for justice and compassion!


Blessings,

P. José

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