Saturday, May 18, 2013

Pentecost is our Ordinary

I was at the Mass for the Vigil of Pentecost this evening, and had one of those moments where I was listening to the readings from so far deep inside that I forgot where I was or what was supposed to happen next. Which was kinda interesting, considering that I was the cantor and was supposed to get up and sing the psalm. I recovered quickly enough, but not without that sense of disorientation, wondering for a moment if I was doing the completely wrong thing at the completely wrong time.

The first reading: the Tower of Babel. (Deep breath, recovery..) Psalm petitioning God to send forth the Holy Spirit and renew the face of the earth. The bit about the Holy Spirit praying for us when we don't know how with groans that words cannot express. Then this great gospel:

On the last and greatest day of the feast,
Jesus stood up and exclaimed,
“Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink.
As Scripture says:
Rivers of living water will flow from within him
who believes in me.”

He said this in reference to the Spirit
that those who came to believe in him were to receive.
There was, of course, no Spirit yet,
because Jesus had not yet been glorified. 
There are those moments when familiar Scriptures take on a whole new layer of meaning, reveal another depth, when splashed over my life, my experiences, as they accrue to me to this day. That is the beauty of life with God: everything is always made new.

Here's how it struck me today.

There are two ways that people can be united, so to speak. The first is a unity unworthy of the name, but it is actually a very sticky unity. It is the unity of sin. Sin speaks one language, and that language says "me" in a thousand ways. Even when it says "you," it really says "me." This is the unity that humanity had at Babel. The people were all about making a name for themselves, establishing their own glory and power. They worked with other folks who had the same selfish intention, willing to use and be used for the purpose of self-glorification. When "God confused their language," they discovered that they didn't understand each other anymore. There is a grace here. The facade of unity crumbled away, and each one was revealed for what they were: out for themselves. Their language now betrayed "me" when it said "you." And each selfish builder went off to build for himself instead of being invincible in the sticky, fake unity of sin. This reminds me of how the devil will butter people up with attractive perks, only to kill, steal and destroy in the end.

But this relationship amongst humanity and between persons is not God's will. This is not the image of God. God is a relationship, a family, a unity of self-giving. It is the Holy Spirit, sent by the glorified Messiah that refashions humanity to live as the images of God we are created to be.

When we are in Christ, when we have died with Him and risen with Him and we receive His Spirit, something happens to us. We experience this labor, this groaning as the Spirit births new things in us. It is glorious, but it is like a pain. But it is a pain we can't escape, and we wouldn't want to if we could realize what it is, for it is part of the birth of new life. That new life is not for ourselves. That new life is what God has done in us, and it is for His glory and His people. In our utter dependence on God for this process that we did not begin and that we do not control, we are completely surrendered to His action in our spirits.

This is the opposite of the self-seeking and other-using of Babel. This is living as self-gift, first to God, and then to the world. This is "I am not my own; no one lives as his own master, and no one dies as his own master." This is living in the awareness that God causes me to be, causes everything to be, that His love courses through me so that I sometimes do not even know (realize) what I am saying and doing, only I discover that there is a river flowing from within me that does not come from me. Jesus has given all to me, and in giving all I have in return, I find that I give God's life itself. This is living as images of God, as God intends. This is our joy.

This is why Pentecost is our "ordinary time." Yes, I know ordinary means "counted." But it is also true that the commonplace life of the Christian IS God's Holy Spirit present and active in and through us so that we are empowered to carry forth His work and His presence in this world. Don't leave out that part about Jesus being glorified, and remember that in the gospel "being glorified" means being nailed to a cross and dying. We share in that part first. But it all goes in onion layers.

This is the only way that joy is possible. This is how Christianity works. This is not about my efforts to be good, moral and nice. This is about transformation from dead to living. This is God's life soaking, flooding, pouring through my leaky, frail, clay pot and making it an outpost of His own life in this world.

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