It’s Memorial Day in the US, but now that the parade has passed me by (literally), I need to plan Pentecost — that great holy day on the Christian liturgical calendar when we try to be surprised by the Spirit (“What??! Tongues of fire?! We haven’t heard of such things…since last year on Pentecost Sunday!”) … just like we try to be surprised by the unconventional form taken by God in Jesus and celebrated at Christmas (“No. Way. God as the out-of-wedlock son of a Jewish couple living under Roman occupation??! I can’t believe that God is being born into such circumstances…again!”).
How to be surprised once again this Pentecost? How to make room in worship for the Spirit to startle us? How to increase our knowledge and understanding of a familiar faith story?
I am tempted, as I reread Acts 2:1-21, to suggest that our Pentecost worship services include disorienting elements to unsettle our Sunday spiritual routines — oscillating fans blowing loudly (“the rush of violent wind” in 2:2), multiple languages spoken in simultaneous cacophony (2:4) — but the liturgiophile within me cannot quite bear the thought of completely chaotic worship.
So instead, as I plan and prepare for several Pentecost services on my own calendar, I am leaning toward to the activities and images of chaos that appear in the Revised Common Lectionary readings themselves:
– the eclipsed sun and the blood-red moon that accompany seasons rich with prophesy and a poured-out Spirit (Acts 2:17-21, quoting Joel 2:28-32), and what may be dissonant to us: that these dire images are signs of good news;
– the less-familiar story of Numbers 11:24-30, and the truer-than-we-admit actions of Joshua who wishes to control the message and the movement of the LORD’s spirit;
– the monsters of the sea, both small and great in Psalm 104:24-35, cavorting through the waters and responding to the Creator like lap dogs who play and whine and rejoice and beg from their companion-owners;
– the manifestation of the Spirit — not just the gifts of the Spirit to make us all feel special, but the full demonstration of the Spirit within each and every one for the sake of the common good (1 Corinthians 12:7) — which compels us into the worst and most complex chaos of all: community.
Somewhere within this jumble of Spirit-inklings and Spirit-stories, I’m praying for a sermon, a liturgical script and some prayers to emerge. How are your Pentecost plans shaping up for Sunday, June 8th?