The Briefest of History Lessons:
For those of you who don’t follow closely along with the Christian liturgical calendar, yesterday was Pentecost. Pentecost takes place seven weeks after Easter and as Christians, we celebrate because Pentecost also marks the day that the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples and the power of God began to fuel the early church. The Spirit falls like a fire onto the people and they are united, speaking plainly and celebrating. What a contrast to what we saw around the country.
Before Pentecost, there was Shavuot. Shavuot, or the Feast of Weeks, was (and is) a Jewish celebration that mirrored the journey of the Israelites to Mt. Sinai. A people, weary of travel and generations of slavery, come upon a new land and they receive something very special. A wandering people receive direction, a forgotten nation experiences God’s face smiling upon them and right there, on that mountain, they hear the very word of God. A snapshot of focus and direction, leadership and clarity. Does it feel like we could be any further from that?
Reflections on a Nation Afire
I’ve been spending way more time than I should be on news sites, social media and Reddit threads covering the protest. I ought to be playing with the wee baby Shelby, and giving her a million kisses because she is the cutest of all babies, but I’m hunched over my phone watching grainy, unverified videos of protests. I’m find myself looking to be outraged. I’m out for blood and I want to see swift justice fall on people’s heads.
I have an itch that needs to be scratched and a hunger that needs to be met, and after days and hours searching, I’ve yet to find something that does it. Yesterday was Pentecost. Yesterday was Shavuot. Where is our unity? Where is our guidance?
When I read about the longing of the Israelites to hear from God, I see my own desire in them. I spent some time reading Exodus, Joel and finally Acts 2. It felt like something was sated and for my brothers and sisters out there, I’d like to share. I’ve written down some reflections but I didn’t want them to overshadow the Good Word, so I looked up some HTML and I’ve set them side by side below. This isn’t exposition and it isn’t meant to be. It’s just pausing to explore how the living word of God might still be speaking.
Acts 2 (NIV)
1 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. 5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning!
16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:17 “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. 18 Even on my servants, both men and women,I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. 19 I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below,blood and fire and billows of smoke.20 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. 21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’22 “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.
25 David said about him:
“‘I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand,I will not be shaken. 26 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest in hope, 27 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, you will not let your holy one see decay. 28 You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.’
29 “Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. 30 But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. 31 Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. 32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. 33 Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.34 For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said,
“‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand 35 until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”
36 “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”
37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
vv.1-15. The beauty of this gathering and the power of the Spirit to unite them should not be lost on us, especially in this time. People gather from regions and backgrounds that should shun and hate one another. They are united BY the power of God and FOR the glory of God. You see here a foretaste of the hope of Revelation 7, “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”.
vv.16. The Apostle Peter starts to quote the prophet Joel. The book of Joel is certainly a good read, given the times. Joel speaks of the locusts that have ravaged the land and the injustice of the rulers who govern the people. Joel urges people to place their hope in God–His Judgement and His Righting what is wrong.
vv.22-24. We should not forget that Jesus was arrested, “tried,” and executed with unimaginable cruelty under an unjust system. His innocence was unquestionable and only amplifies the wickedness of his captors. What I experience in these verses is the permanence of trauma and death. When I think about what would even the scales for something like the horrific execution of Jesus, there is no punishment severe enough to make up for it. When I think about what I’d do if someone harmed Shelby or Stephy the way we see marginalized people harmed in this country, no arrest, indictment or incarceration would be enough. How could you possibly look at generations of subjugation, dehumanizing and fear and even those scales? How could you think that accountability would be enough to make it up a mother who has lost her son. Of course we want justice, we want accountability and change, but the cup of wrath that is due on our society could fill the oceans. That’s why the anger is spilling out into the streets. If God condemned the whole of the human race for what we did to His Son, I think I would understand. How do we even begin to address the pain of trauma that runs so deep.
But in this passage we see something shift. We see that God raises from the dead. God frees from the agony of death and God removes the hold that the permanence of death had on Jesus. In doing so, God gives a path for us to be free as well.
vv. 25-36 Peter goes on to describe the victory that God has over death and strife. He quotes King David who knows that he can “rest in hope, because [God] will not abandon [him] to the realm of the dead.” Peter speaks hopefully and triumphantly about Jesus, who has conquered death itself. Anything less is not enough to undo the sting of pain and loss.
vv. 37-41. The men ask Peter what they should do. At this point when I was reading this passage late, last night, I was just as eager as them to know. All over the place you find people asking what they should do, and here Peter lays it out. Peter says to repent – admit your transgressions and turn away from them, never to return. Be baptized – die to your old self and rise anew. Be forgiven and accept the gift of the Holy Spirit. Save yourselves from this corrupt generation. Peter doesn’t condemn. He doesn’t play gate-keeper for who gets to enjoy the “new normal.” He invites people in and gives them a chance to repent and be forgiven.
vv.42-47. Then, and only then, the church begins to take on shape. They’re devoted to teaching and fellowship. They share and love and experience joy and blessing. They bring others to know the goodness of God. They begin to experience the community that churches around the world model themselves after. People love this passage but perhaps we forget that it is born out of a tragic death, a fractured community, humble repentance and a commitment to love others as themselves. People forget that it was only possible through the power of God.
Some Closing Thoughts
I’m appalled by what’s going on in our nation. I’m embarrassed by this country that I love so much and I resent that I have to be ashamed. But I am clinging onto hope. Not merely in justice, because there is no proper restitution here. How do you pay for a murder, or compensate for lives lived in fear and humiliation. You can’t undo death and you can’t wipe away suffering, there is someone who can, there is a Just One. In Him, I have decided to hope.
And in the meantime, I will take a page out of Joel and I will mourn. I will mourn the death of George Floyd. I will mourn the deaths of too many just like him. And I’ll repent. I’ll mortify prejudice in myself. I’ll embrace the forgiveness of a good God and I’ll pray to be a part of his power falling on the people– uniting them under God, indivisible, with justice for all.