“When the day of Pentecost had come, the apostles were all together in one place…” (Acts 2:1)
“Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20: 22-23)
It is no wonder, I suppose, that the above words jumped off the page as I looked ahead to our Pentecost readings for this week. For who among us does not yearn for the time, which will surely come again, when we can all be ‘together in one place?’ Indeed, I can hardly now imagine a day when I won’t flinch to have most anyone standing near enough, unprotected by a face mask, that I could feel their breath on me.
For this is so. For all of my life and yours, I expect, I knew it to be different than it is today. And specifically, in the now almost 32 years I have served as pastor before these last months, this amazing work was always about physically bringing people ‘together in one place’ or another. My go to way of pastor-ing has always been to be close enough to lay on hands, to whisper prayers, to lean in close, to stand alongside.
And so it was that today I celebrated a first baptism since all this began.
It is, of course, far too soon to have the whole community gathered. Just a handful of family would be there.
There would be no children leaning in close to the font as the water was poured. Indeed, I would not be pouring the water at all this time. Instead, I would stand back and speak the words, ‘You are baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…’ with dad holding her and her mother scooping the water on her little head, and with them both making the sign of the cross on her forehead and placing their hands on her in blessing. There would be no assisting minister standing on tiptoes to light the baptismal candle from the Christ candle. No, this time the youngest among us would not carry the hand crocheted blanket, the children’s Bible, the recently signed baptismal certificate, the box that held the baptismal candle to the little one’s parents. And no, this time I would not lift that baby high to walk her out into the congregation who would normally be there to smile to see her up close as they sang out the words of “Jesus Loves Me” or “Children of the Heavenly Father” or “I Was There to Hear Your Borning Cry.”
It was all different this time, to be sure. But it was still beautiful in its own way. For surely, in spite of all that was not the same, the Holy Spirit moved among us still today. Indeed, surely the very breath of Jesus was felt as we again sensed that this was no empty rite of passage, but rather both wondrous gift and calling given and received to a wholly different life:
- One where differences are bridged as we hear about in the remarkable Pentecost story in Acts.
- Indeed, one that is marked by the giving and receiving of forgiveness: this powerful gift which makes life between among us not only richer, but possible in ways it never can be otherwise.
And so, in spite of all the grief I carry heavily these days, I find that I am also waking up to the realization that it just could be that the Church as it emerges from this incredibly difficult and challenging time, might actually be closer to what Jesus intended when first those disciples were all gathered in once place. When first he breathed on them with the promised gift of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, it could just be that God is using this time (as God always does) to do a new thing among us now.
Oh, I know your voice has joined in the chorus these last days as we have shouted our outrage that ‘the church has always been essential and we don’t have to all be together in one place for this to be so.’ At the same time? Could it be that this is the first time (at least for many of us) that we have so fully appreciated this truth, or even that we have so fully sought to find ways to respond to the call to live into this truth?
And while I do not subscribe to the particular theological school of thought which would insist that God somehow caused all of this, for what God of love would will such suffering to countless thousands of God’s beloved? Even so? I am more confident than ever that God will use such a time as this to blow new life through and among and into and upon us. For our own sakes, yes. But even more so for the sake of those to whom we are sent.
So I didn’t get to hold the baby, pour the water, hold her high? So what? She is still baptized — and perhaps having her parents do what I ‘normally’ would have done makes it all the more meaningful as they now consider what it is to raise her in the faith.
Surely one could say the same about so many other things as well as we have adjusted how we ‘normally’ do them to work in a time where we are called to minister in ways we simply never have before.
Will we always grieve what was that many never be again at least as we remember it? Perhaps.
Will we grieve in such a way that we are then unable to see the ways in which the breath of Jesus upon us is calling us to new ways and new things and new places which we have perhaps never done or seen or been before? I pray not.
I really do.
- What do you think? It is possible that this time affords us to be more ‘fully the church’ in ways we never have been before? How so?
- What strikes you as especially different in terms of how we have had to do things now in the midst of all of this? Can you sense the Holy Spirit blowing though us and upon us and among us even now? How so?
- What necessary changes made in this time now are likely to continue? Are they signs of the new ways God is at work among us? Why or why not?