One of my prized possessions is a cassette recording of Thomas Merton lecturing his fellow monks at their Kentucky monastery during Advent of 1964. He tells them that we must come to see that Christianity exists in history, and that we have to see Advent in terms of contemporary history. He details some then-current events: the shootings and killings in Mississippi, the war in Rhodesia. Then he says, “Pious meditations on how rough Mary and Joseph and the Baby Jesus had it are meaningless unless I have some response to the sufferings in the flesh today. Events are manifesting a reality which is present. We’re living in Advent. What’s happening around us is the Advent liturgy of 1964.”
Merton’s words shed light on every season of the church year. In this case, they raise the question of the difference between mere pious mediations on the early disciples gathered at the festival in Jerusalem and the events that indicate we are living in Pentecost. In seeking an answer, we do well to remember John Howard Yoder’s caution against reading “the surface of history,” that is, making simplistic connections between current news reports and the mysteries of what God is up to in the world. But with that due caution, what is the 2013 Pentecost liturgy? Each appointed Scripture text provides not only a lens through which to see the world but also a unique focus on the gift of the Spirit.
In Acts 2, the out-pouring of the Spirit is a dazzling convergence of Passover and Pentecost, signs and wonders that extend God’s message of repentance and forgiveness of sins to all nations. The coming of the Spirit crosses countless barriers, and, in Augustine’s words, “gathers together a society of pilgrims of all languages.” Where in the world is that happening? Read more