(In The Life Of The Church)
Approaching Pentecost (by Jamie)
This Sunday is Pentecost, the day we remember the coming of the Holy Spirit to the newly Jesus-less followers of Jesus. It’s a story that greets us as we occupy a similar space to that of the disciples—we too are group of people trying to wrap our heads around what it means to be the people of God in our time and place. And it’s fitting that the liturgical calendar brings us back to this place of searching year after year, as our time and place reinvent themselves constantly.
As I was reading through the lectionary texts earlier this week [Side note: you can find the texts each week at this accessible, though ugly, site: lectionarypage.net], something hit me differently than it had in the past: in the reading from John 15, Jesus more or less says that it’s better to have the Spirit come than for Jesus to stick around. I think this was strange to me because, if given the choice between actually occupying the same physical space as Jesus, and living like we currently do, I would typically pick the former.
The confusion this reading offered me has been a great companion this week.
Because it showed me that I think of the presence of the Spirit as less than the presence of Jesus.
And I’ve never really thought about why.
And typically it’s when you realize you don’t know something that are able to look for it—the awareness of unknowing becomes eyes to see.
If I were to reach for a guess as to what Jesus might be getting at in saying that it’s better for the Spirit to be with us, I could answer that fairly simply as saying that it is through the power of the Spirit that we are formed in the way of Christ, thus simply having Jesus to ask about stuff would not be enough to form a person in the way of Christ (see: the disciples, literally always).
And, if you think about it, there are plenty of teachings of Jesus that we have access to and actively ignore, soften, or dodge because they make us so uncomfortable.
We tend to be “Who is my neighbor?” people (often quite literally so).
And this is probably why Jesus covers some of his most important ground poetically, through parable and metaphor. When it comes to teaching about the Kingdom life that Jesus has come to proclaim, he scatters that seed in the imagination, where whatabouts and work-arounds have a looser grip.
But I think when I tell myself that I would rather have Jesus around in a body than just have the Spirit, I'm not mostly concerned with being able to hear Jesus teach and ask Jesus questions.
If I’m honest, I want Jesus to lift up the lowly, care for the afflicted, confuse and afflict the power structures that claim religiosity—you know, his usual Jesus stuff. The problem with that is twofold: 1) there’s more work to be done than Jesus in a body can (or at least chose to) accomplish (he says as much, at least), and 2) even if he could do that alone, that story seems to only ever end in death, which gets us back to where we started.
So I’m getting the impression that Jesus is expecting that the Spirit of Life, poured out liberally across the earth, will somehow make something of us, a people who are well-versed in finding ways to sidestep what Jesus is clearly asking of us and the way we relate to other people; something that somehow outshines the life and work of Jesus, and presumably happens in that behind-the-scenes realm of imagination Jesus so often appealed to in parables.
And that impression has left me wondering what it means for me as an individual who is well aware of the ways I am unlike Christ, often in real time, that Jesus thinks this.
What does he know that I don’t? What bearing does the Spirit of God have on my life? Are there obvious ways to live as Christ to other people that I ignore? Am I even open to being formed in the way of Christ?
These are the questions forming my entry into Pentecost and Ordinary Time this year. I would offer the one in the middle—are there obvious ways to live as Christ to other people that I ignore?—as one that is probably good for everyone to ask from time to time, so you can do that if you want to.
And if it happens that you don’t know how to answer that question, take up your unknowing as eyes to see and go looking.
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