By Joanna Lawrence Shenk
A few years ago when I preached on Pentecost, I shared about the Jewish holiday Shavuot. This holiday, observed seven weeks after Passover, is the reason why people from so many places were in Jerusalem. Shavuot is the celebration of God giving the Torah to the Hebrew people at Mt. Sinai. It is a celebration of Divine revelation.
Pentecost is in keeping with that history of Divine revelation within the Jewish tradition. The Spirit rushed into that room where the disciples were hiding to call them out of fear and isolation. The presence of the Spirit was a Divine revelation that the disciples could continue walking in the way of Rabbi Jesus even though he was no longer there to guide them.
Pentecost, however, does not replace Shavuot. Rather is it an invitation for us to re-connect ourselves, as Christians, humbly within the family of faiths, recognizing ongoing Divine revelation across traditions.
This also feels very much in keeping with our mysticism series during Lent. In that series we heard stories of direct connection with the Divine. Mysticism, we said, is the experience of oneness with all things. Oneness with the Divine, humanity, and creation.
I described one of our contemporary mystics, Rosemarie Freeney Harding, as constantly inviting herself and others to re-bind themselves to God or Spirit, to re-bind themselves to Creation, to re-bind themselves to each other, to literally re-member who we are as one human family. Rosemarie was involved in the Civil Rights Movements and many other movements for justice. She was a teacher, healer and organizer.
One way that Rosemarie was reminded of our oneness was through a vision she had of the Pachamamas, the earth mothers. These Pachamamas she saw are both women and spirits, living all over the world and all connected to each other. She wrote, “they are all African because we are all African, we have all descended from the first mother in Africa. These Pachamams are of every race and every shade of skin and texture of hair. They have bodies of every size. They are the protective spirits of the earth.”
“They form a circle of grace that has been here since the beginning of the world, since the beginning of people. They have promised to take care of each other’s children, all over the world. So you cannot tell who will love you by race, who will shelter you just by nation. They are all our mothers and we are all their children.”
In these recent weeks filled so much violence and death, I imagine the Pachamamas weeping. They are weeping and grieving for their children who have lost connection with each other. They are weeping because so many of their children are isolated, alone and angry, cut off from the source of love and spirit that is their birthright. They weep for their children gunned down with calculated hate. They weep with all those who are grieving lives and dreams lost. They weep for wars continuing to ravage the vulnerable. They weep for our world where weapons are more profitable than peace.
I imagine we are all connected to that grief in some way… raging or weeping or despairing or numbing out because it is all just too much. The grief connects us back to the source of life. The grief re-binds us as family. The grief means our hearts are tender with love for one another.
I want to take a moment to be present to the grief together… to breathe through the grief together. I invite you to take a breath and hold yourself gently. Take a breath honoring your grief in whatever way it manifests.
I’m not sure how much grief was playing a part in the Pentecost story, but I think in keeping with the ongoing revelation of the Divine, that the Spirit is with us now in our grief. I believe that the flame of the Spirit is kindling and re-kindling our love and our courage and our connectedness.
When the disciples left the room where they were hiding and spoke the truth of the Spirit’s presence, they were connected to others across lines of difference – different languages, different cultures. They recognized themselves and all the people gathered in Jerusalem as part of one family.
In the gospel of John it is written that Jesus prayed for all people to be one. I don’t buy a narrow Christian interpretation of that prayer. I don’t think it’s about all people becoming Christian. I think it’s about all people being connected to the Divine, and therefore each other, in the way that Jesus was connected.
The presence of the Spirit is given to us to reconnect us to each other and to the Divine. The Spirit is given to us so we can remember our oneness. This oneness is the circle of grace held by the Pachamamas. It is the experience of interbeing that Thich Nhat Hanh taught. This oneness is the experience of Divine connection that dwells at Oak Flat, that we learned about from the Apache Stronghold. This oneness is the mystical spark ignited in all places where the Spirit can flow.
As we celebrate Pentecost today, may it be a reminder of our connectedness to each other and our connection to the Divine. May the physical sharing of communion be a symbol of re-binding ourselves to the way of Jesus which is the way of the Spirit that transcends all divisions. May this ritual where bread is broken to remind us of a body broken, hold our grief for the many bodies that continue to be broken by violence.
As we sing and we pray, may we be open to the Spirit at work among us, knitting us together and strengthening our hearts. And as we celebrate with the variety show after the service, may our laughter and creativity embody our connection to the ever living flame of the Spirit of life.
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on us. Amen.