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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Christ and the Spirit (This is your brain on too much oxygen)

For some reason, this year more than others, I've been required to think and pray about the Holy Spirit more intentionally than I have before. For one thing, in the second week of Easter, I made a five-day presentation at our parish's GIFT lifelong-learning sessions entitled, "I Believe in the Holy Spirit," the final installment of the year-long series on the Apostles' Creed. For that, I concentrated on two aspects of the title statement: what is belief, and who is the Holy Spirit. Since the answer to the second question is, of course, "I don't know," I stuck with what we can glean from our sacramental experience in initiation (baptism, confirmation, and eucharist) and scripture, particularly the Pentecost narratives of Luke (in Acts 1) and John (19-20, the passion and resurrection narrative).

Then I had to give that webinar last week, an introduction to the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, and as I got into that, probably because of where my mind and heart had been with the GIFT presentation and my predilection for starting from liturgical experience, I decided to approach the RCIA from a "Pentecost perspective." What I mean is, anyone interested in RCIA has been at Mass for the last 90 days, through Lent and Easter, and remembers the experiences and texts of the Triduum. And the webinar was scheduled on the Thursday between Ascension and Pentecost, so mystagogy and preparation for all that was fresh in everyone's mind. So I decided to look at RCIA through the lens of its fulfilment, that is, through the ends of eucharistic life and mission, in order to consider how preparing catechumens, and for that matter, calling the unchurched into belief, might be based upon a vision of what we hope we all intend to be: apostles and martyrs.

The new creation that is Pentecost gets two different interpretations in the New Testament. One is the version in Acts, heard as this past Sunday's first reading; the second is from John, utterly different in delivery, but towards the same end, directed toward the mission of reconciliation. I gave an overview of this a few weeks ago, right after Easter, in a post called "The Fifty Hour Pentecost." But it is liturgically remarkable that this same brief gospel holds the center of the mystery both at the beginning of the Easter season (on Easter 2) and again on Pentecost, at the end of the season. This says to me that I should be paying special attention today, because the Church wants me to hear this gospel on two Sundays in two months, a unique occurrence in the lectionary cycle.

We get a lot of insight about Christ, the Father, and the Spirit in these few lines of John 20.
  • The breath (spiritus) of Jesus is an act of creation, recalling Genesis.
  • Shalom is the new normal, the conviction of Christ's living, abiding presence that overwhelms his death.
  • This new creation is oriented toward mission: "I send you."
  • The mission upon which the church is sent is the Father's mission. ("As the Father sent me...")
  • The mission is related to God's forgiveness, and needs to be an visible manifestation of divine mercy. The church, in other words, we, ought to be a sacrament of the forgiveness of sin, the inalienable mercy of God, inviting, inviting, inviting. It's us or nothing. We have to be a clear alternative to "business as usual" in the world of Caesar: peace through violence and threats of violence. While some hear the end of Jesus's summons to forgiveness ("whose sins you shall retain...") as an authorization not to forgive, I hear the whole statement in context as saying, "What you do matters. My Father's forgiveness will be seen when you forgive. When you don't forgive, people will see that as God not forgiving. So for God's sake — forgive!"
All this is by way of setting up this little insight that came to me while I was hyperoxygenated and puffing down Miller Road Monday. Yesterday, I ended my blog with the statement that "Easter is Pentecost." After I posted it, as I was running, it struck me that Good Friday is also Pentecost, because, as I pointed out in "The Fifty-Hour Pentecost," from the cross, Jesus "handed over the spirit" with his last breath. So Good Friday is Easter is Pentecost. Thus, in at least one interpretation of the Christ event in the church, the death, resurrection, and sending of the Spirit upon the church for mission all happened in the same instant. And what struck me, and of course I have no idea whether this is "true" or not in any definitive way, was that it should never have surprised me at all. Because, for us who believe in God as a trinity of divine love, as "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" in traditional description, there is no disunity among the three. The Father who sends, the Son who is sent, and the Spirit whom the Son and Father send upon the Church together to do the Father's mission of unity, forgiveness, and reconciliation, are one. God is one and three, and the death, resurrection, ascension, and sending of the Spirit, though distinguishable as events in our imagination, are also one event. Or maybe not the same event in any historical sense, but reveal the same God, one Spirit who proceeds from Father and Son, in ancient credal language.

But the issue, I suppose, is not just figuring that out, or admiring it, or disproving it, but doing something about it. And all of this reflection about mission and Trinity and the mystery of the paschal God sort of set us up for next Sunday, doesn't it? And just as urgently, it urges us with the voice of the white-robed strangers (angels? neophytes? are they the same?) from the Ascension story to do more than sit around gazing up into the sky. Christ is right here among us, in everything we do for others, and in all those whom we meet who are in need. We proclaim an alternative vision: an "empire" of mutual service, with an emperor-God who leads the way by washing feet and not clinging to godliness. The dying breath of Jesus is the breath of life that God breathes into the clay that is us, the church. "When you send out your breath, things are created again. You create the world all over again." Violence becomes service. Imperial might becomes bending down. Judges become healers. Let's believe in that world, and get busy living in it.

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