I am up early today, on this eve of the Feast of Pentecost. My heart is troubled, dispirited, sad.
On Pentecost Sunday, we will celebrate—as we do each year—the Holy Spirit’s coming. Remember, the Book of Acts tells us it was on the Jewish Feast of Shavuot, fifty days after Passover (fifty, hence the Greek word Pentecost for the same day), that the Church was born. Jesus ascended into heaven just 10 days before, and he promised then that the Holy Spirit would come to inspire, motivate, and animate his people to be witnesses of all the life and hope and love that he taught and modeled during his ministry in this world. They—WE—would be his witnesses “to the ends of the earth.”
The first miracle—the one we’ll beautifully enact again tomorrow—was a barrier-busting move that inspired the good news of Jesus to be spoken and heard in almost all the known languages of the world at that time. It was beautiful chaos. Some didn’t understand it; some didn’t like it; and some interpreted it as the amazingly hopeful sign that it was: the promise of God’s dream coming to anybody and everybody who would hear the good news, call out, take hold, and live it.
The miracle of languages is only the first of several gulf-crossing, wall-destroying, humanity-reconciling waves of grace that the Holy Spirit brings throughout the Book of Acts. Further in the same chapter, we find the new believers inspired to form communities marked by unity, mutual care, equity, and selfless sharing of resources with one another—especially with those in greatest need.
During this very day and time, we must ask the Holy Spirit to continue to come upon us: to inspire, motivate, and animate us to bridge the chasms and break down the barriers that divide us from one another in the human family. Deep repentance, diligent work, and joyful sacrifice will be required in order for us—each and all—to realize the abundant life that Jesus continues to offer the whole world.
As we approach the celebration of Pentecost, the world is literally groaning for a justice, equity and reconciliation that only a move of the Holy Spirit can bring. Our Black sisters and brothers cry out from endless violence and murder against them in our cities and counties across America, rooted in deep and broad systemic bias, inequality, and disrespect. In these very days, as we mourn with the African-American community the recent violent deaths of Auhmad Aubrey, Brionna Taylor, and George Floyd, there is deep pain and righteous anger being expressed, bursting forth from the cry of the Psalmist who sings out, “How long will you forget me, Lord? Forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long will I be left to my own wits, agony filling my heart? Daily? How long will my enemy keep defeating me?” (Psalm 13.1-2).
On this Eve of Pentecost, I am longing for—crying for, pleading for—the Holy Spirit to come upon us to inspire, motivate and animate us as individuals and collectively as the Church of Jesus Christ to BE witnesses to the repenting, healing, liberating, life-giving love of Jesus to the ends of this broken world. Please join me.
“Come, Holy Spirit. Amen.”
The Rev. Scott Painter, Vicar
I was recently reminded by a colleague about the Italian origins of the word quarantine. Literally meaning, “the span of forty days,” the word was used in the Middle Ages to describe the keeping of ships waiting off port for 40 days to prevent latent cases of plague coming on shore.
Of course, the number of forty is familiar to readers of the Bible. The number forty is always used to describe a time of exile, wandering, loneliness, and testing. We recall the story of Noah, when the rain fell for forty days and nights, forcing Noah and his family to be at sea until the storms calmed and new life began to spring forth; and, the story of the Israelite sojourn in the wilderness for forty years, between escape from Egyptian captivity and entrance into the Promised Land; and, of course, the forty days and nights after his baptism that Jesus stayed alone in the wilderness, tempted and tested, before starting his public ministry.
In these biblical stories of quarantine, time is spent apart: a time of consecrating self and community to God and God’s purposes in the world.
As we’ve said since first beginning to stay apart as church, at the initial rise of the coronavirus pandemic, we are doing so out of love and not out of fear. Have we been afraid? Of course. But as a Christian community, our commitment to the way of love, embodied in Jesus, is at the heart of who we are and what we do. We made an early decision to stay apart—not for a literal 40 days, but for a quarantine—with the guidance of our Bishop. We did this for love of neighbor, staying at home to limit the spread of a deadly virus to others.
Near the conclusion of those biblical narratives of “40 days,” God’s people always experience some new blessing or sense of God’s presence with them – a rainbow, the report of spies about milk and honey, the appearance of angels to attend to Jesus. But the line isn’t always clear to mark the edge of the desert and the beginning of home. There is often ambiguity that requires a new level of discernment, collaboration, and faith.
Over the next couple of weeks, we will recognize the landscape becoming more ambiguous around us, between official orders of government to stay at home, and increasing societal movement back toward work and activity in public spaces. This will be frightening to some of us, especially those who are of vulnerable age or physical health. And, it will be a relief to others, especially those who have suffered in their mental health from the extreme isolation and loneliness during these highly anxious times.
Bishop Doyle has asked the leaders of each congregation to begin making a plan unique to the specific context of the local community. He has advised that in our decision-making related to the coronavirus pandemic we will be moving away from fixed universal timelines and toward a phased approach. For now, we are in “Phase 1” –focused on mitigating viral spread—and will remain here for at least the Month of May. This means that throughout the month of May, we know that we will continue to worship and connect virtually and make service opportunities available on a very limited basis and in responses to specific needs in the community.
During May, members of our Bishop’s Committee, School Board, and other congregational leaders will work together to create a plan for moving into “Phase 2.” (Phase 2 will involve some gatherings and public worship, limited in size and space; incorporating new distancing and sanitizing procedures, maintaining stay-at-home for vulnerable people groups, continuing online connection and worship opportunities, and approval of our plan by Bishop Monterroso.)
A brief summary of the Bishop’s “Phased Plan” in 4 phases is included with this note.
In all of this, we will move forward in ways that are inspired by our core values of Communion, Compassion, Collaboration, Creativity, and Commission. We will remain committed to breaking down walls of division, and making a space in our community for anyone and everyone who want to be a part.
Love – not Fear – will be our rule and our way on this journey into God’s grace.
With you on the way,
The Rev. Scott Painter
I serve as the Vicar of Grace. A word from our English heritage in the Episcopal Church, "Vicar" means that I serve as the priest and pastor of this congregation.