Pentecost optimism

Empty Easter looks with hope to future celebration

Apr 20, 2020 by

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Easter any other year is one of those Sundays the folding chairs might come out of the fellowship hall and into the sanctuary. Churches should be full to bursting. But not this year.

Like the tomb on the first Easter morning, churches on Easter Sunday 2020 were empty. While the call and response of “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!” went out over backyard fences, cellphones and online worship services, the specter of death, illness, stress and worry made the day’s celebration seem fleeting — as if Lent had only paused before resuming its somber grip.

Although it is impossible to predict what the world and our lives will look like in a mere month and a half, many congregations are casting cautious optimism toward Pentecost Sunday on May 31. For “when the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place” (Acts 2:1).

Rarely has such a previously unremarkable phrase taken on such hopeful new meaning.

Much of our attention on Pentecost is usually focused on the Holy Spirit’s tongues of fire and violent wind descending on Christ’s followers. This year, at least part of the emphasis could shift to celebrating the more fundamental act of simply gathering together. After all, that is what Christ’s followers were doing when the tongues of flame came down upon them.

Until we meet again, we hold to our holding pattern — knowing the cross is empty, the tomb is empty and death is vanquished, even if the context of our lives momentarily indicates otherwise.

There’s yet another phrase in the Acts 2 narrative that takes on a different meaning these days. After urging repentance and then baptism as a sign of forgiveness of sins in the name of Jesus Christ, Peter promises that those who experience this transformation will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise, he says, “is for you and your children and for all who are far off” (Acts 2:39).

Our concept of distance has changed over the last month. Despite our hopes, Pentecost Sunday may still be an online event. But ­Peter’s proclamation of the Holy Spirit’s presence has never been more true.

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