Sunday reflection

Our reading is from Acts 2: 1 - 13

It was a strange Easter this year. No end of term school services – no end of term school at all. No hymns being sung in church on Palm Sunday, because the churches were shut. No Holy Week stations of the cross or quiet services of reflection, perhaps in people’s homes, but not in any public places. No Maundy Thursday communions, and here in Corstorphine no Good Friday service where three crosses are usually carried from one church to another, often done a little sheepishly as we wonder who will toot their car horn or shout something – good or bad – at us. And then on Easter Sunday no renditions of ‘Jesus Christ is risen today’ or Easter bonnets for the morning service or egg hunts among the church pews. The tomb was still empty, Jesus had still risen, but one of the touching points of the church year had to be celebrated behind the doors of people’s houses, rather than in a place where people have gathered for nearly 600 years. And now six weeks later we find ourselves at Pentecost, a feast that isn’t celebrated or remembered by many but the most faithful, a day sometimes called the birth day of the church as we know it – and the church as we know it is still unable to open its doors, to allow people to gather, to share in person with the good news and the coming of the spirit. It all seems very strange.

And yet . . .the picture I have in my head of the first Pentecost is of the disciples gathered together in ta room – ‘all in one place’ Luke tells us in the book of Acts, ‘and suddenly a sound came from heaven . . . and there appeared to them tongues as of fire . . .and they were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues’. It seems that those tongues of fire drove them outside into the streets of Jerusalem, where they met men from every nation, and the disciples found themselves able to talk to each of those men in their own language. There is always a great moment on Pentecost when whoever is reading the Bible lesson for us that day gets to the bit in Acts where Luke lists all the nationalities: Parthians and Medes and Melamites and all the rest, and the poor reader has to recite all those different people and places and the congregation almost applauds at the end of it. Luke writes that the people in the streets heard of the mighty works of God told to them in their own language and they were both amazed and perplexed, not only at what they were hearing, but that they were hearing it in their own words.

Pentecost would normally be a time when we would speak about throwing open the doors and going into the streets and speaking to strangers and trying to do so on words that people understood, but in 2020 our Pentecost celebrations are muted by necessity – we can meet a member of another household in a public place so long as we stand 2 meters apart – it doesn’t have the same ring of excitement or faith to it, but our lockdown measures are still necessary and Pentecost, as happened with Easter and Palm Sunday before it, has to be what it is in these times.

But rather than look back at what has been and mourning the loss of that, perhaps this Pentecost, more than any other before it, mirrors more closely the first Pentecost. Perhaps this Pentecost asks us to be faithful, sure that we will find the words and overcome our shyness, and find ways of communicating and supporting and rejoicing. Perhaps this Pentecost brings us closer to the disciples and their fears and faith and hopes and worries all rolled into one. Perhaps this Pentecost allows us to think about how the church can be and should be in changing times, times that won’t go back to so called normal for a long time – and maybe we don’t want to go back to the so called normal, though a wee bit of familiarity wouldn’t go amiss.

The lockdown has brought its problems and worries, its losses and concerns, of course it has, but it has also brought opportunities and changes of attitude. Neighbours speaking to each other, people out exercising, a cleaner environment, coffee mornings and meetings via the internet. We have discovered how much we value human company and found inventive ways of sustaining contacts. We have reached out to strangers and found ourselves at the receiving end of their concern too. And some of the inequalities of society, often hidden or overlooked, have come to the fore – what can we do and what will we do to ensure that they don’t go unnoticed again? Here is  perhaps not a new beginning, but new possibilities, a discovering of what is important to us, a realisation of what we have in common and what matters to us as a community and a society. These are times that are both amazing and perplexing, but those feelings have been experienced many times before throughout time, and what has flourished in those times is love and peace and hope.

Perhaps this lockdown Pentecost, celebrated not in the open but behind closed doors or in carefully managed social groups, is a true Pentecost, a time of celebration and possibility and realisation. And for that, we give thanks.

Let us pray:

Loving God, send your spirit on us once more,

A spirt that soothes and excites,

That assures and sends out,

That nurtures and challenges.

Meet us in our safe places and our challenging places,

In tongues of fire and in words we understand and recognise,

And help us we pray to hear your voice, recognise your presence, dwell in your love

In times that both amaze and perplex us.

Bring us wisdom that our words may be used to heal and inspire,

That our actions are just and thoughtful and brave,

That we might be your church in what we do and what we say,

Knowing that we search and ponder and react and build in your company and the company of those around us.  Amen.