One of my favorite things about the Revised Common Lectionary is that every three years, the Scripture readings cycle back around again and we hear them in a totally new way.
The last time I was reflecting upon the readings of Pentecost (Year A), I was in my first year of seminary, trying to figure out what it meant to discern a call to ordained ministry. The time before that, I was a sophomore in college, spending all my time at choir rehearsals and in the organ practice rooms. The time before that…well, you get the point.
Every time we cycle back around to the same readings, I anticipate the wonderful feeling of liturgical deja-vu, knowing that the readings will sound at once the same and completely different this time around.
In the tradition of which I am a part, we believe that Scripture is the truest witness to the Word made flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. And this witness is a living one: in the words of one of the New Testament epistle writers, “The Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12).
And so, this year when the Pentecost story from Acts 2 came around in the lectionary, I was eager to find out what the Spirit would do in the hearing of this familiar passage.
As often happens, the winds of the Spirit blew in a surprising direction this week, and I remain astounded as I reflect on the resonances between this Acts passage and the events of communities all around the United States in the past week and a half:
- As our Black siblings mourned the death of George Floyd at the hands of the empire last Monday, I couldn’t help but hear echoes of that story within the story of another brown-skinned man who was killed 2000 years ago at the hands of the empire.
- As communities – first in Minneapolis, and then elsewhere – came together to protest this injustice, I couldn’t help but think about the community in Jerusalem gathered for a festival, still mourning the death of their beloved.
- As flames erupted from protest sites, prompting wild confusion, I couldn’t help but think about the flames that rested on the Jerusalem community on that Pentecost day, wild and confusing harbingers of a Spirit-led age to come.
- As I watched White folks across the country condemn the destruction of capital over and above the systematic destruction of Black lives and Black flourishing, I couldn’t help but think about the people in the Pentecost crowd who assumed that those filled with the Spirit were simply drunk.
- As I listened to the wise words of Black preachers and community organizers, I couldn’t help but hear echoes of Peter’s sermon as he spoke of prophecies fulfilled, of signs and wonders and salvation. The passage ends, “The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:20-21).
Does it feel a bit like the sun has turned to darkness and the moon to blood in these past days? A global pandemic (and its ubiquitous accompanying adjective, “unprecedented”), and now this, widespread upheaval in response to the kind of injustice that continues to rear its ugly head as White folks sit in silence.
Yes, it really should feel like the days of the prophet Joel’s vision are upon us. These are days where we should be praying for the Holy Spirit to come upon us again. The violent winds and tongues of fire are, in a sense, already among us.
So where is God’s promised Spirit? Where is the one Jesus promised to come among us as comforter, advocate, bringer of truth?
That Spirit is already here. The Spirit is among us when our Black siblings call for justice where there has been no justice. And the Spirit is among us when we listen to those same siblings and follow their lead: when we feel that pit of discomfort in our bodies as we come face-to-face with our own racism; when we learn to do the work of pruning the systems that produce bad fruit in our communities; when we leverage our positions of power to lift up those who have been marginalized; when we learn how to keep our mouths shut in humility when it’s time to sit back, repent, and learn another way.
The Spirit is dwelling in these spaces of tension, and this should not surprise us. Do we really imagine that the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 was free from moments of tension and anger and confusion?
And so, I invite you to settle in. I’m trying to settle in, too. Let’s watch for the Spirit’s movement. Let’s see the new things God is doing in our midst.
When we feel the tension, let’s not shy away from it; let’s press into it and find out what the Spirit is revealing within us.
And then when we hear from the Spirit, let’s do something about it. At the bottom of this post is a list of starting places, but let’s not stop there.
Just as the disciples were forever changed by the winds and flames of Pentecost in Acts 2, let’s be changed, too. This is the call of the gospel.
“‘With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come to God with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’
God has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” — Micah 6:6-8
Wondering what to do?
Me, too. Here are some suggestions I’ve seen lately…
- Buy from Black-owned businesses.
- Find, listen to, and amplify Black voices in your community and in your social media feeds.
- Learn about racism and antiracism. Language matters. You might start here: https://time.com/5846732/books-to-read-about-anti-racism/.
- Talk to your kids about antiracism. Take inventory of their books – are there any black and brown faces in the illustrations? And their crayons – are the only “flesh-colored” crayons the color of White flesh? If so, give these a try. It really matters. https://shop.crayola.com/color-and-draw/crayons/multicultural-large-crayons-8-count-52080W0010.html
- Advocate for antiracist policy in your neighborhood, school district, and community. Find out who your local and state representatives are, and write to them.
- Donate to organizations that work for the flourishing of all human life.
- Commit to a personal or communal practice of prayer for racial justice.