By the Rev. Dr. Helen Svoboda-Barber
Today is Pentecost, the third biggest Feast Day in the church year.
We have Christmas, when Christ was born. And Easter, when Christ conquered even death.
And Pentecost, when Christ’s followers were given the Holy Spirit and the Church was born.
This is a major feast day. A day of holy obligation to celebrate.
And yet…This week. How can we celebrate after this week?
Our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry joined with faith leaders from many traditions around the United States to name this weekend as a weekend of public lament. This week, we climbed past the milestone of 100,000 deaths in the US attributed to COVID-19.
This week, too, we have been confronted with images that leave no doubt about the deep brokenness of our world.
We saw a video of white woman in Central Park calling the police on a black man who simply asked her to put her dog on a leash.
And we saw a white police officer in Minneapolis cause the death of a black man during an arrest for passing a counterfeit $20 bill.
How can we Christians celebrate after a week like this?
Well, we celebrate because it’s our Holy Obligation.
We Christians are no slouches to paradox.
Every year, we celebrate the birthday of Jesus knowing his gruesome death awaits.
Every year, we mourn the death of Jesus, knowing that death does not win in the end.
We Christians proclaim that Jesus is 100% human and 100% divine at the same time.
We know that we, each one of us, are both–at once–sinners and saints.
We Christians have had much practice at holding two irreconcilable ideas in our minds at once.
And so, this Pentecost, we Christians both celebrate and lament.
We point to the goodness in the world with one hand and point to the brokenness of the world with the other.
We affirm the goodness of the world by sharing heartwarming stories, and pictures of the beauty around us, by offering kind words and reaching out in love as we can.
And we also lament in both words and actions.
We reach out to those who are in grief during these lonely days, offering them our prayers, our connection, and our actions.
We take steps to better understand how racism has molded our own lives. And we make changes in our lives so that we more fully respect the dignity of every human being.
That is how we both celebrate God’s presence in our life and live out lament, at the same time.
In a few minutes, the St. Luke’s community will be gathering by Zoom to celebrate the birthday of the church, and to begin to imagine together what a re-birth of the church might look like in the time of COVID.
The time that we have been away from one another so far this year because of the pandemic is roughly about the same amount of time as that between the crucifixion of Jesus and Pentecost, (give or take a few weeks).
These two time periods, both this year in 2020 and two millennia earlier, have been times of intense crises.
These have been times when our community fabric has been stretched to the breaking point.
These have been times when simply making it through the day is success enough.
But then, and now, it is time to begin rebuilding our world.
A new and different world.
A world that is not turning out the way we had hoped and imagined.
But this is our world. This is our current reality. And this is our future to build.
There were several options for this morning’s lectionary, and I made sure that we read the story from Numbers today.
Remember? Moses has chosen 70 elders to get some of God’s Spirit to help Moses do God’s work?
And that morning when they gathered, 68 of the chosen plus Moses were there at the tent. God took the Spirit that was with Moses, and shared it with the others. They all received the Spirit,
and they all prophesied.
But 2, 2 who had been chosen, or some reason stayed back at the camp and they did not join the others at the tent. And these two who stayed home? They, also, received the Spirit of God. They, also, prophesied right in their homes.
And this story has profound and important implications for us as we begin re-imagining Church.
In the Olden Days, the Pre-COVID days, we Episcopalians imagined that gathering for worship—to sing and take communion and hug one another at the peace — that is what we did.
That was the “right” way to do church.
And if you were unable to get to church for an extended period of time, we could send out Lay Eucharistic Visitors to take you some communion as an extension of our community worship.
But now, post-COVID, we are going to have to re-imagine what it means to be church, what it means to “do church” in the next few years. We are not going be able to gather and sing, that’s pretty clear. We are not going to be able to catch up at coffee hour or exchange hugs across the aisle and across the generations.
“Being church” is going to be profoundly different than what it was before COVID.
Our reading from Numbers reminds me that God Shows Up — not simply in the places where people gather, but God Shows Up in the people God calls–no matter where they are.
Our reading from Numbers reminds me that we are not required to gather together in one place in order to receive God’s Spirit or God’s Blessing or God’s call on our lives.
God can meet us where we are. And that is true on every level. God can meet us where we are: in the midst of grappling with the realities of racism that built our country and continue to fester today.
God can meet us where we are: As we mourn the 100,000 people who have already died from COVID in the US and as we grieve that so many more will join this number in the coming weeks and months.
God can meet us where we are: When all the old “containers” of what church meant have been brokenand we are invited to rebuild a whole new kind of church and a whole new way to live in community.
We are Christians. We know how to do this. We have been formed by paradox.
Join me in proclaiming the messiness of life. Join me in proclaiming both lament and celebration this Pentecost weekend.
Expect God’s Spirit to be with you this day. Expect God to surprise you, even in your own home.
God is there. Imagine what that means…
I speak in the name of the One, Triune God. Amen.