Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Can You Feel the Burn? Or, the Feast of Pentecost

This past Sunday was the celebration of Pentecost (which means that after this post, I will be caught up, liturgically speaking...kinda).Pentecost is also referred to as "the birthday of the Church," which takes some explanation...

In Christianity, the Pentecost is celebrated 50 days after Easter. The prefix "pente" is the Greek word for fifty and the suffix "coste" means fire or burning. Therefore the Pentecost the celebration of the Holy Spirit appearing in the form of flame fifty days after Easter. I guess that wasn't that much explanation...

The new piece that I learned this year (thanks to the Pulpit Fiction guys) is that the Pentecost was not originally a Christian thing. The celebration of Easter coincides with or parallels the Jewish feast of Passover, and 50 days after that is the festival of Shavuot, which any Hellenistic Jew would call Pentecost. This Jewish festival commemorates when God gave the Torah to them at Mount Sinai, all of which happened after the Passover in Egypt, the result of which being the Hebrew release from slavery by Pharaoh.

What the heck does this mean for the story of Pentecost? It means that when the lectionary reading starts with "When the day of Pentecost had arrived..." it doesn't mean that God had ordained this day for the followers of Christ, but that the Jews in Jerusalem and the surrounding area would be coming into the city to celebrate what God had given them. The disciples of Christ were totally bogarting the celebration with their wacky tongues of flame and speech in other languages! But Christianity has a long, time-honored tradition of taking other people's celebrations and not giving them back, so whatever...

Any rate, since the story tells that the Holy Spirit filled Christ's disciples, Pentecost is ofter referred to as the birthday of the church. And here is a meme to that effect:

I couldn't have memes in this blog
if it weren't thanks to Episcopal Church Memes!

Now, I found this one funny enough to re-share on Facebook. I have to admit that every year I want birthday cake, and I think it was only one year that anyone brought anything to church. And I think they were cupcakes (does that really substitute for birthday cake now?) Anyway, so I shared it on Facebook. I got a few likes and a couple of comments. That's success in my book.

And then a friend of mine commented with something to the effect of "no cake for you. I'll give you cake on the anniversary of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn's marriage." That set me off.

This particular friend is Roman Catholic. Oftentimes, he is pretty easy-going, but sometimes he takes a hard line, exclusive edge to religion. But I didn't think his persuasion was to exclude me, an Episcopal (Anglican) Christian, from the Church because he was convinced that the birthday of the Church meant the One, Holy Roman Catholic Church. I refuse to accept that Rome has the corner on Christianity, just as much as I refuse to accept that Evangelicalism has the corner on Christianity. Heck, no one in the Western branch of Christianity can properly say that are the Church, to the exclusion of the Greek Orthodox Church, the Coptic Church or any other Christian whose governance does not flow through Europe.

How does that kind of exclusion help us to live in the light of the Risen Christ?
How does that help us work toward the Kingdom of God?
How does any of that help us to realize that we are the Body of Christ?
I don't think it helps any of these things.

And such a shame, too... I always thought that birthday cake brought people together.