Week of the Day of Pentecost
Dear Christian Friends:
On the ancient day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit dramatically appeared, Acts reports that the apostles “were all together in one place.” Centuries later, at long last on the Day of Pentecost in 2021, a significant number of the members of Resurrection Lutheran Church were all together in one place in our outdoor worship space to receive the gift once again of the fullness of our worship life together – all of the lectionary readings, the communal singing of hymns, prayers of intercession for the world, the Peace of Christ, the Eucharist, and on Saturday evening at the Vigil of Pentecost, the sacrament of baptism when Axel Norwood Hedberg was made a child of God by water, word, and Spirit. Thanks be to God.
I have engaged the Acts account of the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost innumerable times in my life as a preacher and student of Christian spirituality. And the report that they “were all together in one place” is a phrase that is easily glossed over and taken for granted. Not this year when we’ve been scattered from place to place, individually and in our familial pods, but not together in the fullness of Christian practice in person, in one place. For me as pastor, and I trust for you as members of our congregation who were present, it was an immensely moving time to be back together to engage again what we routinely do as church.
And what a place it is, our outdoor space for liturgy! When the features that comprise the church and parsonage yards were planned and constructed, no one envisioned this area as a place for liturgical worship. But the parsonage deck as chancel, and new brick patio as choir loft, and fence as altar rail, and the church yard as nave, the place of assembly – all of this configured to work well for the flow of the service, as we were gathered by the Spirit, to hear and engage the word proclaimed, to share in the holy supper, and to be sent back into the world in loving Christian service.
Then there were the particular, curious coincidences of our worshipful day outdoors. On that first Christian Pentecost, the Spirit made “a sound like the rush of a violent wind.” For us, on Pentecost 2021, it was the fascinating cacophony of the once-every-seventeen-years cicadas. And also, a lovely breeze, indicative of the Spirit as wind, as breath, was moving among us. It was fun for me to watch you as members of the worshiping assembly situate yourselves in the shady areas of the lawn as the sun cast its hot rays on our place of worship, calling to mind the brilliant, divine light of Christ that can at times seem dazzlingly overwhelming. Our gathering hymn was “Like the Murmur of the Dove’s Song” which we sang in the great outdoors where spring birds were making their vigorous song earlier in the morning as I was readying the area for worship. The concluding doxology of the prayer of thanksgiving at the table offered these words: “With your holy ones of all times and places, with the earth and all its creatures, with sun and moon and stars, we praise you, O God, blessed and holy Trinity, now and forever. Amen.” How lovely it was to thank God outdoors in the more direct, palpable company of, if not to say, communion with the whole earth and its creatures and sun and moon and stars.
Speaking personally as your pastor, it was deeply meaningful for me to move about in your midst, sprinkling the water for baptismal remembrance and thanksgiving which marked the beginning of our worship – which connected me with the memory of standing at the baptismal font in the nave of our church to preside at the rite of confession and forgiveness on March 1, 2020, the day when you voted to call me as pastor. Who knew it would take a year and more to return to that ordinary, extraordinary Christian practice of gathering in close proximity to baptismal themes and realities? And also, to move among you to share the Peace of Christ with bows and waves in place of handshakes was another highlight moment. Most significantly perhaps was administering to you the bread of Communion, as my relationships with you deepen even during this time of pandemic social deprivation. For our interactions at last to be grounded in the sacramental administration of Christ’s bodily real presence was its own profound homecoming. There were points during the liturgy which were marked by the nearness of tears – of joy, of relief, of reconnection to our deepest identity as Christians, and for me as a pastor in Christ’s church whose identity is most profoundly rooted in the fullness of word and sacrament. Even after a year and more of fasting from central things, the return to these holy realities felt completely natural.
I hope and pray that my reflections on our time of return to feasting on the fullness of holy things inspires your own musings on our time together – if indeed you were present in person last Sunday. For those who for whatever reasons were not able to join us, I pray that this message will inspire longing for your own return to the worshiping assembly when your circumstances and station in life permit it.
Thanks be to God in Christ in the power of the Spirit for the Day of Pentecost 2021!
Pastor Jonathan Linman