Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Pentecost: An Easter Story

This Sunday is the eighth Sunday of Easter, more commonly known as Pentecost. Despite a multitude of liturgical reminders of that fact, it's easy to forget that Pentecost is an Easter moment. We still open the service with "Alleluia. Christ is risen." The Pascal Candle remains lit (unless you're part of a congregation that ignores the rubrics and extinguishes it after Ascension day). The "Alleluia, Alleluia" is added to the dismissal one more time (unless you're part of a congregation that ignores the rubrics and adds it all year long).

Part of the problem is the fact that Pentecost is a big day (principal feast) with its own color (red) and its own traditions. Another problem is the fact that many casually refer to the upcoming liturgical season, properly identified as the "Season after Pentecost," as "the Season of Pentecost." But Pentecost isn't a season; it's a day. All those Sundays after it, which used to be reckoned as Sundays after Trinity Sunday, are ordinary time, but Pentecost is Easter. So distinct is the transition from Pentecost as the last day of Easter to the ordinary time that follows that the lectionary, which usually allows Sunday's propers to be observed throughout the week, dictates that proper observed during the rest of the week after Pentecost is whatever proper most closely falls on the calendar, in this case Proper 5 (see BCP p. 917).

Pentecost is Easter, and the story of Pentecost is an Easter story. Over and over, Jesus told his disciples to remain and wait for the coming Holy Spirit. The first collect option reminds us that the Holy Spirit is a "promised gift." The descent of the Spirit is not an afterthought or a secondary accommodation. As we read in the gospel lesson from John 14, Jesus' return to the Father and the coming of the Holy Spirit are part of the same movement--accomplishing the same purpose. Easter is our celebration of God's victory, God's salvation, and that celebration cannot be complete until the gift of eternal life is "shed abroad...throughout the world." In other words, we can't end Easter until the truth of Easter reaches everyone--or at least until it has been opened up beyond a particular moment, a particular manifestation, a particular language and made accessible to all.

This is an Easter Sunday. Pentecost completes the proclamation and celebration of Easter. We can't finish any other way. Now that we know the power of the Spirit, now that we've seen it come to the earth, can you imagine completing the good news of the resurrection any other way? The good news of Easter began with the woman at the empty tomb, spread to the disciples (albeit gradually), and continued as Jesus revealed himself to his followers. This spreading of the good news didn't stop when Jesus ascended into heaven nor was it in any way diminished. Jesus returning to the father allows the power of the resurrection to continue in all time and space, animated--breathed--by the Holy Spirit. This is Easter. For one more Sunday, one more day, this is Easter. Once Pentecost is complete, we have received the good news of Jesus' victory over death completely. Then, as the ordinary time of the rest of human history unfolds, we have what we need to carry that good news to the ends of the earth.

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