Pentecost: Peace Carried on a Violent Wind

3 04 2008

It was a feast to mark the end of the harvest season. Hebrew people, having been scattered throughout the world like so much seed by the whims of political fate and fortune, had gathered in the holy city on pilgrimage to observe Pentecost, the fiftieth day of what was once newfound freedom from harsh Egyptian rule. History had filled the gaps in-between, obscuring at least in part the significance of that miraculous day from the collective memory of those chosen people. With time came the rise and fall of a Jewish dynasty, followed by one oppressive regime after another, leading ultimately to this pilgrimage, standing at the end of a long procession of feasts observed and traditions handed down, today in the shadow of the mighty Roman empire.

One favorite story passed down in the Jewish tradition was of humanity’s first hand at empire-building: the Tower of Babel. The story was told of all humanity sharing a single language and a single dream – to build a monument to itself that would scrape the foundations of heaven. Of course, everybody knows what happens next: Yahweh, in his omniscience, brings confusion and disorder to a race of humans whose highest goal was to honor itself. Who knows what terrible consequences awaited a world in which a megalomaniacal humanity held endless possibilities? And so it was a world splintered, divided, and confused that the Hebrew people walked. Along dirt roads they walked the obligatory mile, with bloodied crosses on a distant hillside casting shadows over their liberty, the chosen walked to Jerusalem, likely wondering what ever happened to the dreams of their fathers. Is this Pax Romana the only way to live?

There was a teacher who held some promise, a carpenter’s son from Galilee who had become something of a cult hero for spinning yarns about the kingdom of the heavens and backing it up with signs and wonders. He was nailed to one of those cruel crosses in the end, bled dry along with all the speculation that he might be the long-awaited messiah. That was only last Passover; and as electric as Jesus’ ministry may have been, on the long walk to Jerusalem, the gains established between the feasts were all but erased. There was nothing left pointing to Jesus’ legacy except his disciples and some rumors of an empty tomb. The present realities of Roman rule outweighed any fantastic escape that could be offered by such folklore. As always, the people of God would have to find a way to peace on their own terms – or so it seemed.

Because in that moment before all hope was lost, in that cramped upper room that held Jesus’ countercultural holdouts, a sound like a violent wind rushed in and changed the course of history. The same supernatural force that stripped humanity of its’ ability to speak of world domination so many years ago at Babel, manifested now as tongues of fire to give these disciples a new Gospel of Peace to proclaim to the Jewish diaspora. What poetry! What brilliance! A people reconciled to their creator through the God-Man Jesus, on the feast day of a completed harvest, baptized in fire to speak: life in the face of death, humility in the face of arrogance, peace in the face of strife. Pax Christi in the face of Pax Romana. Resurrected people who do not fear the stench of fear, people for whom empire is now a foreign word. These are the new heralds of God’s kingdom coming down to topple the towers of this world. This is peace carried on a violent wind, carried to souls weary of shouldering the burden of hope deferred.

May we carry this rich heritage forward into history yet written. May we seek to stand with these ancient Jesus followers in the path of God’s violent wind and be his seed scattered, his planting in the world. Let us with explosive power proclaim Jesus to the war-torn and locked out, to the battered and abused, to the knocked down and the beat-up, to the subjugated, to the disenfranchised, and to the last, the lost and the least. As we celebrate Pentecost, let us step out into the light of day and speak boldly the last pure language on the face of the earth: in tongues on fire with the Gospel of Peace.

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