Sunday, May 19, 2013

Pentecost: The Red and Black Go To Church

Today we celebrate Pentecost, the religious commemoration of the manifestation of the Holy Spirit to the early church. Most Lutherans wear red on Pentecost (I don't know if other denominations do this or not), a reference to the flames of fire said to dance over the head of those early believers. When I was donning my scarlet shirt, I realized that I was dressing as if I was going to a May Day parade as much as church.

The parallels between this holy day of the Church and the high holy day of the labor movement do not end with their color coordination. For Pentecost is also a day about work, about equality, and about our radical calling to move the world towards justice and peace. On this day, we remember the early church beginning to reach out to Gentiles. The apostles affirm that Christ's message includes everyone, even and especially those marginalized by society. As the lesson from Acts chapter 1 affirms:

No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.

The spirit of life and light does not speak through the wealthy or through those in situations of privilege (or at least not only through these). No, this God calls us to honor the prophesy and the testimony of the slaves and the women and all flesh. The sacred memories of Pentecost call us to honor those who speak different languages and, dare I say, take different faith journeys, than we are used to.

Christ previews the Holy Spirit's flamboyant appearance at Pentecost in today's Gospel lesson, from John 14:

I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

This is a radical transfer of authority, a move from faith's top-down dictation from the powers that be (not that the prophets ever fit those restrictions in their own time and place) to the authority placed in Christ's body on earth, the church and all that seek to follow Christ's example of love. All humans seeking to connect with the other humans in the world can participate in this love, in this divine presence.

We can and must practice solidarity across race and class and linguistic and gender lines, in recognition of our equality before Christ. For He took the slave's vision and the despised Samaritan's position and the adulterous woman's shame, and declared them part of the human condition, part of the saved and liberated people of God who have but to acknowledge and claim our power to remake the world in the image of holy justice.

On a side note, the psalm for today (Psalm 104) was a beautiful meditation on the abundance God has created and which we are intended to enjoy, and it contains this glorious verse:

There go the ships, and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.

The rest of the passage leaves no doubt as to humans's place alongside other animals as creatures, and that God provides them and us both with food, that humans are not the only vessels of the sacred, that animals too have rights and are glorious.

And so on this Pentecost, may the spirit of the sacred accompany you throughout your week. May you prophesy and listen to the prophecy and wisdom of those around you. May you honor the creation around you, and the creature that you are. May we all seize the power granted to us to proclaim the gospel of love and dignity and respect for all life.

Happy Pentecost!


  1. Red, the blood of angry men; black, the dark of ages past; red, a world about to dawn; black, a night that ends at last! [Favorite Les Mis song]

  2. Awesome! I actually almost included those lyrics in this entry :-). It's a great song.