A Spirit-Led Church, Even in Exile

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 
All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.

1 Corinthians 12:4-5, 11-12

We are coming up on the festival of Pentecost once more, on the very last day of May this year.  Pentecost is basically a celebration of the church’s birthday – born in a rush of Spirit in wind and flame.  That Spirit drew believers together in ways they never imagined – with people they never imagined! – and then sent them out on the wildest journeys to the far corners of the earth.  

As I was thinking about what to write for this month’s newsletter, I looked back at last year.  Pentecost was in June and I wrote a little bit about the history of Pentecost – as well as the two festivals that surround it, the Ascension and Holy Trinity – and its origins in the Jewish Festival of Weeks.  I wrote about how it is the same Spirit that unites us with the believers that came before us, and how each year, each generation, that passes through the cycle adds new layers of richness and meaning. 

I was thinking about last year’s floods when I wrote that, how all the flooding shaped the way we heard the promises of scripture – especially the story of Noah and the flood – how it shaped the way that we as a church related to our community and expressed our faith.  Yet as intense as the floods were, of course, they pale in comparison to how drastically the present crisis has upended our lives.

Rather than the floods of Noah, this year I can easily imagine that one of the first biblical images to come to mind for what we are experiencing might be the plagues of Egypt!  However, the place my heart keeps coming back to is the theme of exile.  Our ancestors in the faith knew well the pain of exile – the pain of wandering in the wilderness, longing for home, not knowing when they would return.  My heart aches with the pain of exile.  

I can imagine you share this pain as well.  Perhaps it’s showing up as frustration or annoyance or sadness or anger, but underneath it all is the pain and fear of loss, and the uncertainty of what the future will bring and how soon it will bring it.  We are exiles from life as we knew it.  I grieve not being allowed to gather with you all as we did before – last year we celebrated Pentecost with a communal potluck meal; but this year, we will not even be able to gather.  We have already had to celebrate the holiest days of the year in social isolation.  And my heart goes out to those who had been looking forward to celebrations of graduations and proms and birthdays, Mothers Day and Memorial Day.  

But our exile will not last forever.  And as we wander through a wilderness of Facebook Live and Zoom meetings, of homeschool and hand sanitizer, of face masks and fear, I think we would do well to remember that, in the scriptures, the wilderness is always a place where God shows up.  God is with us here.  The same Spirit that burned on the lips and in the hearts of the first believers burns in us – uniting us not only with those who came before us, but also with each other, and with our siblings in Christ around the globe.  We face this time of exile and crisis united as one body in the Spirit, even when we are apart.  We are not alone.  God is with us.  And God will bring us through to the other side of this.

This may well be the strangest year around the cycle that any of us have ever lived (I really hope I don’t have to eat those words in 2021).  But God’s got this.  And the same Spirit that roared through the first assembly of  believers on a rush of wind and flame continues to send us in mission in new and strange ways, and – though we are near or far – to bind us all together in the one body of Christ.

First published in St. John’s May 2020 newsletter
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