Today is Pentecost. Today is the day that I secretly hope the Holy Spirit will come down powerfully, and breathe new life into the Church. Today is the day that I wish for something different, today is the day that I wish to see Resurrection.
Pentecost is the end of the Easter celebration. We are not looking so much at points in time as a whole narrative that covers about 2 months. While I cannot say how much time passes between Jesus calling Lazarus out from the tomb to Passover, the very next chapter in John is the triumphal entry. Resurrection is the reason that the political parties unite in the decision that Jesus must die. If I were to guess, I would guess that the Resurrection of John is within a few days of Passover.
The passages we read today are not isolated events, they are the start and the finish of the craziest, most stressful spring that anybody can imagine. When Jesus went into Jerusalem, a crowd might have yelled ‘Hosanna to the king of Israel’, but Jesus and the disciples were fully aware that the end was coming; remember that when Jesus tells the disciples that they are going back to Judea, the disciples are uncomfortable with this, and Thomas says to the rest, ‘let’s go and die with Him.’ When John is raised from the dead, the cross is so clear that even Thomas can see that this is where they are going.
During this period, the disciples with just a few exceptions fall away. Peter falls away in a spectacular way; he denies knowing three times, including to a man who recognized him because he just cut of the man’s cousin’s ear and a servant girl. Peter even tries to deny that he has a Galilean accent when a servant girl notices it. Peter is so afraid of being associated with Jesus on the night of the crucifixion that he does not even want to be from the same country as Jesus.
As you might remember, following the crucifixion was the resurrection. Scripture tells us that the risen Jesus appeared to about 500 people. I love this period, because it is a great metaphor for my faith; Jesus is present in a very real way, and not even death can change that. I also appreciate that even now, the disciples do not always get it — because on the very day Jesus ascended into heaven a disciple asked if it was finally time to overthrow the Romans.
When Jesus ascends into heaven, the disciples watch; they keep staring into the sky, they have no idea what to do. Eventually they actually do what they where told to do and wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit. When the day of Pentecost comes, they had been waiting about 10 days. Over this ten days, the 500 that Jesus met with and taught after the resurrection were reduced to about 120. Too often, I identify with this period of silence and contraction. Sometimes it feels like we wait for a miracle, and we start to wonder if the miracle will ever come.
Pentecost comes, and it is exciting. The Spirit descends like tongues of fire, people talk in other languages, and everybody wonders what is going on. Everybody these days gets excited about how everybody is talking in tongues, and thousands are ready to join the new church.
Me, I am even more impressed with Peter’s speech. The last time Peter had a chance to speak out about Jesus, he said: “I never met the guy.” Peter showed that he was afraid of being recognized by anybody, even a servant girl. Peter gains courage, and the only thing that I see that really changes is now the Holy Spirit is here. It is as if Peter is not the same man he was a 8 weeks ago.
One of my favorite metaphors in Christianity is that of resurrection. I know, it is not only a metaphor; The disciples and early Christians really did believe that Jesus rose from the dead, and were willing to die over this point. The creed really does say “We look forward to the resurrection and to the life of the world that is to come.” I am fully aware that this is not a metaphor, but resurrection is constantly used as a metaphor.
When we read Paul’s epistles, Paul speaks of dying to ourselves, or our sinfulness and being risen in Christ. In other places, Paul speaks of our sinfulness being so destructive that we were dead in it until Christ raised us out. For Paul, salvation and transformation is about being raised up with Jesus and given new life. The coward Peter died, and when Pentecost was fully come, this brave man, Peter, spoke out in a way that the coward named Peter never could.
I love that we are invited to participate in the same sort of resurrection that Peter experienced. I know it is often said that he was restored on the beach when Jesus told him, “feed my sheep” — but, we don’t see proof of how Peter changed until Pentecost. Until Peter stood up to those who could kill him, we do not know the power of the resurrection. There is something life-giving about the Holy Spirit, and there is something meaningful about this metaphor.
If any one of us was dead in our sins, we can be thankful that Christ is able to give us resurrection. The church is always an Easter community, even when Pentecost comes around. We believe that Christ is risen from the dead, but we also believe that when the time comes, it is our turn as well.