In the lead up to Pentecost in 2021, I’ve felt the preacher’s perpetual dilemma when facing into the great feasts of the Church – what’s new to say? It’s easy to forget however that each anniversary or stopping off point in the yearly cycle of Christian celebration happens in a new and changed context. The texts and theme remain the same from year to year, but with each revolution of the yearly cycle – the texts and themes echo into and are heard in a new context.
I’ve been wondering about guidance and journeying during this past week – and the words: you can’t get there from here – have been on my mind a lot. I mentioned this to a couple of friends who informed that this was an expression much favored by the residents of the great state of Maine where – upon asking for and being given directions you’re likely to be told oh, but you can’t get there from here.
On this day when we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit not only to the community of the Church, but to each one of us by virtue of our baptism – I’m aware that our Christian journey – historically speaking- has a Jewish-Palestinian starting-off point.
The root of Christianity lies buried deep in the cultural soil of Palestine. This means any flare-up in current Israeli-Palestinian tensions feels to us more than a local Middle Eastern affair. The events taking place across Israel and the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza during these past days have had the feel of something infinitely more serious than the normal ongoing level of intercommunal tensions. In our Christian liturgies we have the historic request to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. This year the prayer carries a deeper urgency. With Jesus we want to cry out Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.
With due regard to the complexity of opinion and passion that can ignite over the Israel-Palestine question – it’s probably foolhardy of me to even think about touching this third rail of controversy. But on this day of all days – Pentecost Sunday, I feel recent events cannot pass without mention.
You will recall the story of the Gordian Knot – a knot tied by Gordius, king of Phrygia, held to be capable of being untied only by the future ruler of Asia. Many had tried to untie it before Alexander the Great simply cut the knot with his sword. A bold solution. The Israel-Palestinian question – not to mention our conflicting thoughts and feelings concerning it – presents a classic example of the Gordian Knot.
There is an earnest desire for peace on all sides, but peace is a destination – and it’s a there that cannot be reached if you start from here.
Any attempt to talk about the situation runs immediately into questions of mind-numbing complexity:
- How much is Western European political criticism of Israeli action a thin veil for an older anti-Semitism?
- How much is an easy American condemnation of Palestinian violence a cover for anti-Muslim prejudice?
- How can the Christian-nationalist right be so virulently pro-Zionist and yet remain violently anti-Semitic at the same time? -Remember the chant Jews will not replace us arose from this section of our society.
- Can Israel be both a democracy and a nationalist Jewish state at the same time?
Peace is a journey as well as a direction we journey in search of. Peace is a destination – a there – and no matter the directions given – you just can’t get there if you insist beginning the journey from here. Hence the need for accurate guidance.
The birth, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus evidences a – you can’t get there from here God moment realization. In Jesus, we Christians believe that the Creator-God personally enters within the process of creation and with the gift of the Holy Spirit God reboots the whole creation system – resetting the direction for its subsequent unfolding.
At Pentecost, the divine Spirit –once brooding over the creation now becomes actively engaged from within – empowering you and me to become the change we long to see. As Christians we believe the Holy Spirit now empowers us with agency, filling the depths within us, inhabiting the spaces between us -enveloping the world around us. The Spirit reboot, empowers us to partner with God in the work of nurture and repair of the creation.
Acts 2 – which begins with amazing pyrotechnics of wind and flame announcing the Holy Spirit’s descent into the world amidst the polyglot cries of those present that differences separates us from one another, no more. The chapter ends with Luke offering an amazing glimpse into the Pentecost events immediate effect on the community of Jesus followers.
This is a glimpse of the destination which we can only reach when we begin our journey from the right place.
The trick is to recognize when we’ve gone off track. Let me suggest a final image on this feast of Pentecost in 2021. These days when we get lost – we have a GPS voice telling us to take the next legal U-turn – showing us how to get back to from we should have started our journey in order to each our desired destination.