A Pandemic Pentecost
Pentecost, Comon Lectionary Year A
John 20: 19-23
©2020 Rev. Dr. Elisabeth R. Jones
Comment from Rev Elisabeth – I wanted to let you know that the sermon was recorded early in the week, before we learned of the death of George Floyd, and the resulting racial upheavals in Minneapolis. I hope that this weekend, as we pray together for the Spirit of God to guide the church to proclaim a Gospel of peace with justice, we remember these events, and seek wisdom for the healing of all our relations.
Behind locked doors.
Afraid of what might happen next.
Mulling over the risk in the immediate vicinity,
fearful of the news and threat in the wider community, the city, beyond.
Concerned, deeply, about the intentions of the authorities.
Completely bereft of wisdom about what to do next;
Is it safe to go out?
Safer to stay here?
While that could be us,
behind closed doors,
wherever we are as we watch this worship service,
it’s actually how John the Gospeller begins
HIS version of the “birthday” of the Church,
the gifting of the Holy Spirit to the followers of Jesus,
and their commissioning to be Christ’s Body,
the Church in the world.
Perhaps you can see why this year, of all years,
we’re coming at this Pentecost,
not with Luke’s pyrotechnic shenanigans in the Book of Acts,
nor with a festival day with
- choirs in flame colours, red and gold streamers hanging from the rafters (Summerlea)
- anthems belted out on full-bore organ, with a bit of brass on the side,
- singing “Come,O Holy Spirit, set your church on fire”
(yeah, no, not that!)
Instead John’s Gospel, with this lock-down Pentecost
this intimate, peace-filled
gathering of Jesus with the fearful, grieving disciples.
And they were fearful and grieving,
like so many of us right now.
Fearful of the future,
fearful of the present,
grieving the death of loved ones,
grieving the death of certainty,
letting go, reluctantly, of planned futures
to dwell, constricted, in an awkward present.
So imagine, will you,
wherever you are, in your living room,
your den, your deck,
even if you’re on the bus with an earbud in
on your way to work.
That there is a knock at your door.
(Not to await entry, but to give you a moment
to compose yourself),
because here, without needing to use your door,
Jesus is now with you.
You know it’s him because of the blood-red holes in his wrists,
and the wincing way he guards his rib-cage
as he walks to sit in the empty chair next to you.
Now I don’t know about you,
but I need to hear Jesus say something.
And it’s not “Surprise! Happy birthday!”
It’s not even that loud Lukan angelic announcement
“Fear Not” whenever the frightening Holy shows up.
Rather, it’s more like a gentle, baritone, breathed, barely spoken,
“Peace be with you.”
You’re all good church folk, you may find yourself
automatically mouthing back to Jesus
“And also with you.”
And that’s fine, you’ll make him smile.
You’re also Jesus’ best friends, disciples
and you know that just four days ago
by the Gospeller John’s reckoning,
though it feels like 11 weeks,
the last time Jesus said to us, “Peace be with you”
it was a promise to get us through the horror
of whatever Good Friday/Holy Saturdays
we were about to face.
Now that we know what we know,
now that Easter is seconds or hours or weeks
or millennia past,
now that death has taken friends, and countless, nameless others,
now that all our norms are in dust at our feet,
now that we sit in our locked down spaces,
our plum-tuckered out spaces,
our “I can’t stand the isolation any more” spaces,
the soul starving, fear-exposing stillness spaces,
Jesus, the Risen One, is here,
saying this “Peace be with you.”
But that’s not all he says, this time.
This time it’s a call to action.
“As the Father sent me,
so now, I’m sending you.”
And now, before we can object,
ask clarifying questions,
point out the futility of apostolic commissionings/ “sendings”
into a world on pandemic lockdown,
into a world of disregard and disrespect
for all things religious/spiritual….
Jesus, now breathes!
In a world where every public breath is taken behind a filtered mask,
here we sit, breathing in… what?
No, but something strong, powerful nevertheless.
Jesus’ Peace-promised Holy Spirit,
the Paraclete, Comforter, Agitator.
Now, granted She comes without the
tell-tale fire flames above our heads,
the mighty rushing wind, swirling around about us,
blowing us like a gale into public witness.
This time She comes on the
peace-filled breath of a life-long,
It’s the aleph before the beginning,
It’s the same breath of the four winds into the lifeless bones of Ezekiel’s dry valley,
It’s the deep breath before we launch into song,
the breath of a labouring mother,
the breath of life-learned wisdom,
the breath of life itself.
She settles like love, into the heart
of each one of us, reviving, renewing, cleansing,
remaking, gifting us with the Spirit’s gifts of grace…..
that we will need for whatever comes next.
Next in the life of earth.
Next in the life of the churches we belong to.
Next in the life of our families.
And this commission, this Spirit-filled sending
that Jesus has just breathed into us
behind our locked-down doors?
What is it?
What is it Jesus demands of us?
Tricky actually, if we’re not so familiar with
John’s Gospel, and his habit of picking up
stitches he left on a loop chapters ago.
In this case, stitches about
going and doing and being
everything that Jesus did and was, and more;
to show by our living, by our loving,
the intimate, incarnate,
reconciling, healing involvement of God,
in every conceivable aspect of life’s journey.
What does that look like??
Well, it will look as unique as each one of us,
as unique as the particular calling of each of our churches.
As Jesus was Bread of Life, the Good Shepherd,
the Living Water, the Vine, the one who points to the
Way, to Truth and to Abundant life,
so too, our sending in the Spirit
as Christ’s Body in the world
will be filled with the gifts of bread for the hungry,
a sheepfold of shelter, protection for the refugee,
water for the thirsty.
It will look like the pursuit of truth, and justice, connection, and community
for all God’s children, all God’s beloved creatures.
And, if this Gospel tells us anything,
we don’t need to wait for doors to open
or for our church buildings to be unlocked,
for us to be deployed for service,
in order for us to be all this,
the body of Christ in the world, now do we?
 Thanks to Martha Spong, in her “Living By the Word” column in Christian Century, May 12,2020, for this opening line.
 A rabbinic tale in Megillah 9:1.
 Gail O’Day, New Interpreter’s John. “Community’s Spirit-empowered mission to continue
Jesus ministry of making God known in every sphere of life.”
 These are references to the 7/8 “I am” statements in John; if Jesus is Bread of Life, Light of the world, the Gate, the shepherd, the Way, Truth and Life, the Vine, and Living Water, then we are called to be the same too.