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July, August, September 2002
Pray for a Pentecost Moment
Years ago, during my time at Virginia Seminary, one of my classmates was an Arab Anglican Christian from the Diocese of Jerusalem. My friend was from a parish in Jesus' home town of Nazareth -- Christ Church. During a social gathering one evening, someone casually asked him how long his Palestinian family had been Christian. "Since Pentecost" he said, very matter-of-factly.
"Since Pentecost", Christians have been spreading the miracle of Pentecost, whispering and sometimes shouting news about God's deeds of power. God's deeds of power in the lives of the first Christians, but perhaps even more often, God's deeds of power in our own lives. And each of us spreads that news in our own way, in our own language, so to speak.
Sometimes our words might not be quite the same as those another Christian person might choose. Sometimes denominations do not sound at all alike, and have totally different approaches to worship, music or teaching. Occasionally, even our brother and sister Episcopalians sound like they are speaking in an unknown language.
We will likely experience some of these differences when deputies from all over the country gather for General Convention next July. Californians, South Carolinians, Minnesotians, Floridians, Hawaiians, residents of Arizona and Idaho, Maine and Michigan, and from the parts of Texas belonging to the Diocese of the Rio Grande will come together voicing a variety of religious viewpoints and ecclesiastical challenges. General Convention has sometimes been a time of growing disunity, where arguments surrounding various resolutions deteriorate into nothing short of Babel, scarcely resembling the miracle of Pentecost.
But fortunately for us, the Holy Spirit is still at work in and through the Church. And it is still God the Holy Spirit who bridges that language barrier so that God's people might be drawn ever closer in love and commitment and empowered to proclaim God's deeds of power in their own lives. It is in those "Pentecost moments" that the Church is reborn, our mission is clarified, and our many voices are united as one.
In my last pilgrimage to the Holy Land, just before the current intifada began, I witnessed firsthand the power of the Holy Spirit drawing God's people into that deeper unity we seek. Forty-two American pilgrims attended a service of Holy Eucharist with the Arab congregation of Christ Anglican Church in Nazareth. Hardly resembling anything that is now taking place in that part of the world, on that day we experienced a "Pentecost moment."
Christ Church is a limestone, cruciform church that is bright with light and enthusiastic members. Over the altar in Arabic is a reredos which contains the words which Jesus read from the Isaiah scroll, recounted in Luke 4.
Many of the congregations in the Middle East welcome pilgrims, and often have a service in English to accommodate their worship. Christ Church was different. Instead of two services, they had a single service in both Arabic and English - at the same time. Those who spoke Arabic read their prayer books from right to left and responded with the words printed on the page in fluid Arabic script. Those of us who spoke English read our printed leaflets from left to right and said the same responses in English simultaneously. One lesson was read in Arabic; another in English. We sang hymns in two different languages to the same tunes. We proclaimed our belief in the risen Christ side by side with Palestinian Anglican Christians and shared news of the power of God at work in our lives, even if that power was being proclaimed in different tongues.
There was only one time in the service when our words were the same. Whenever we said "Alleluia", our languages became one. The word in Arabic and the word in English are identical. So as we sang the familiar hymn "Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones", we came together as one Body in Christ through that word of praise. We experienced a "Pentecost moment."
My friends in Christ, just as in the earliest days, the Holy Spirit still gives each of us the courage and the power and the language we need to spread the good news that we know best, and sometimes those words are pretty simple and straightforward. Let this year of preparation for the Episcopal Church's triennial gathering be a time when we are drawn ever closer in love and commitment and empowered to proclaim God's deeds of power in our lives. It is in those "Pentecost moments" that our Church is reborn, our mission is clarified, and our many voices are united as one.
My friends, as we begin our Vigil for General Convention, pray that we, and all of our Anglican Communion might seek and experience a Pentecost moment! Alleluia.
May God's peace fill you during this season after Pentecost.
Carlotta B. Cochran
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