For this week’s homily, imagine your local pastor using his sermon time to lead the following “readers’ theater.”
Readings for Pentecost: Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104: 24-34, 35b; Romans 8:22-27; John 5:26-27; 16:4b-15
Pastor: Here we are almost half way through 2012. The Mayans told us that this would be a year of profound change in planetary consciousness. The astrologers tell us the Age of Aquarius is actually dawning now – Jupiter aligning with Mars and all that. Yet if you read the daily newspapers we seem to be in anti-2012 mode, don’t we? Anger and harsh words, war and conflict dominate from Afghanistan and Iraq to Chicago and Camp David. Can this really be the dawning of a new age of “Harmony and understanding, sympathy and trust?”
Fittingly in our rather darkened context Pentecost calls us to open ourselves to a radically new and hopeful consciousness. And the calendar has poised us to do just that in an unprecedented way. I say that because precisely this year, 2012, marks the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council. I want to suggest this morning that by observing that anniversary properly, we in our very own parish could invite Jesus’ Holy Spirit to visit us here – to make Pentecost among us as never before. Observing the anniversary of Vatican II in the spirit of Pentecost could truly transform us all.
Hold that thought.
Before returning to it, let’s try to get the flavor of the first Christian Pentecost. To help us with that, I’ve asked six people from our community to perform a little “readers’ theater” with me. Readers, please come forward. (A group of six emerges from the congregation, and stands scripts in hand in a semi-circle before the community. The group includes men and women of all age groups.)
Pastor: Recall the picture Luke paints this morning in the first reading. . . . Jesus’ disciples have been gathered in their Upper Room safe-house since they realized on what we call “Ascension Thursday” that Jesus was gone for good. They’re a group of Jewish men and women with a strong sense of being God’s Chosen People. They’re not Christians at all. They’re Jews who think they’ve found the messiah in Jesus. For them, the Jews are God’s chosen; no one else is. And yet as they share remembrances of Jesus in that Upper Room, they find their narrow religious consciousness challenged by recollections of the Master. Imagine their conversation:
Reader One: I’m feeling really abandoned. I mean, what are we going to do now that the Master has left us for good?
Reader Two: What do you suppose he wanted us to do when he told us to return here and wait for the Spirit?
Reader Three: I don’t know. But let’s see what happens. Jesus has never let us down. He’s never been wrong.
Reader Four: We still have our memories of him, don’t we? I think those could guide us.
Reader Five: No trouble there. Jesus seems to be all we’re talking about these days. (Laughing) Remember when he talked with that Samaritan woman? We were all so shocked. Speaking alone with a woman – and a Samaritan on top of that!
Reader Six: Yes, he didn’t seem to have much trouble crossing boundaries or scandalizing us, did he? Women, men, Pharisees, tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers, the poor who loved him so much – even Roman soldiers and members of the Sanhedrin; he engaged them all.
Reader One: And he cured Samaritan lepers too.
Reader Two: Somehow, he seemed partial to Samaritans, didn’t he?”
Reader Three: Yes, and, you know, he fed those 4000 non-Jews across the Lake just as he did the 5000 on our side. That confused me. How could he do that? It was like he was saying that they mattered as much as we do. To me it seemed like a slap in the face.
Reader Four: And that gentile woman from Syro-Phonecia? She bested Jesus in debate. I still laugh about it. Here he was virtually calling her a dog, and she disarms him completely by saying, “Yes, but even dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.”
Reader Five: That was the only time I ever saw him outwitted. And he loved it! He couldn’t stop laughing either. And she wasn’t even a Jew, was she? Do you think she taught Jesus something about God’s love for gentiles?
Reader Six: And what about that Roman soldier, remember him? Didn’t Jesus say the centurion showed more faith than any of us?
Reader One: What was he talking about? That centurion was our oppressor. How could a man like that have faith?
Reader Two: It was like he was showing us that there shouldn’t be any barriers between people – like all peoples, not just the Jewish community, are God’s people.
Pastor: Story after story like those must have been shared. And then someone said:
Reader Three: You know, I’ve been thinking . . . Jesus wasn’t the first of our prophets to show openness to everyone – not just to Jews. Didn’t the Prophet Joel say something about a future when God’s spirit would be poured out on everyone without exception?
Reader Four: Yes, he did. I’ve committed those lines to memory. Joel said:
Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
Your elderly will have revelatory dreams;80
Your young men will see prophetic visions.
Even on male and female servants
I will pour out my Spirit in those days
And everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord
Will be saved.
Reader Five: What if Jesus was the fulfillment of Joel’s vision – no division between “kinds of people,” none between parents and children, young and old, men and women, servants and free? Maybe when we were with the Master we were living out Joel’s dream.
Reader Six: That’s a good point – a really good point. I don’t know about you, but I need some space to think about what’s just been said. (All agree.) Let’s all take some time for silent prayer.
Pastor: So the community in that Upper Room prayed – though they didn’t know exactly what for. They opened themselves to what they remembered about Jesus – to Jesus’ Spirit. After a long time in prayer someone said:
Reader One: Somehow, I’m feeling different now – like a huge burden has been lifted from my shoulders.
Reader Two: And I as well. My fear seems gone. It’s like a violent wind has blown through my mind, and everything has become clear.
Reader Three: My heart feels like it’s on fire.
Reader Four: And the rest of you are simply glowing – is that fire I see over your heads. (Everyone laughs)
Reader Five: You know, we may finally have learned what Jesus was trying to teach us. Everyone is God’s chosen, especially the poor and people like Jesus himself – the illegitimate, the immigrants, the outlaws, tortured and executed.
Reader Six: That’s incredible. It’s time for us to share this Good News the way the Master did. I think we’ve received Jesus’ Spirit.
Pastor: So all the disciples went out in the street. Peter made a speech and told everyone what they had experienced. He used that text from the prophet Joel. Surprisingly, everyone understood as if language barriers didn’t exist. It all seemed so simple now and made so much sense to everyone. . . . (Pause)
Thank you, readers. (The readers return to their places. When everyone is settled, the pastor continues.)
Pastor: What a beautiful vision of church and reconciliation. So worth celebrating on a day like today, on Pentecost Sunday.
But, you know, the vision was lost in the matter of a generation or two. It was. Soon the Pentecost story would be interpreted to mean “Yes anyone can receive the Spirit of Jesus, but to receive it you have to be baptized. To be saved you must call upon God’s name in Christian terms.” All other approaches to God were seen as invalid. Within three centuries, soon after Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, those refusing baptism would be put to the sword. Subsequently, the return of the old narrow way of thinking – this time Christian — led to pogroms against Jews, Crusades against Muslims, to the Holy Inquisition, burning of witches, to the holocaust of Native Americans, and to cold and hot wars against “godless” communists.
The time is coming, Jesus warns in today’s Gospel, when killers will do their bloody work in God’s name – in Jesus’ name. That, in fact, happened historically. The Dark Ages were long and bleak. The partisan violence and wars surrounding the Reformation period seemed unending.
But then came the Second Vatican Council. As I said earlier, it began 50 years ago on October 11th 1962, and ended in 1965. So this is its Silver Anniversary. As initiated by John XXIII and implemented by Pope Paul VI, Vatican II sought to recapture the spirit of the first Pentecost as described in Luke’s Acts of the Apostles this morning. Vatican II broadened Catholics’ narrow ideas about God. It recognized freedom of conscience as a human God-given right. The Council was “ecumenical” meaning that it no longer saw Protestants as enemies, but as sisters and brothers. Vatican II recognized that Jews and Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims are all “calling on the name of the Lord” and so can be saved even though we hardly know or can pronounce their names for God. The Second Vatican Council was monumental. Its significance was cosmic.
However, once again sadly, the church of the 21st century risks losing the Pentecost experience in a matter of just two generations. There’s a return of a narrow understanding of Christianity that contradicts Vatican II. And at times one can even get the feeling that the narrowness is coming from the church’s highest offices. Often church leaders give the impression that Vatican II, which remains the official teaching of the Catholic Church, is now somehow heretical. So we must backtrack on liturgical reforms. We must insist on the privileged position of Christianity in relation to other faiths, and of Catholicism in relation to Protestant denominations.
Our parish council has decided not to allow our church to be swept along with that reactionary response. More positively, we want to seize the opportunity that the Silver Anniversary of the Council presents. That’s what I meant at the beginning saying that we want to “make Pentecost” here as never before. So we’ve chosen today’s feast to announce a three-year renewal program that we hope will revitalize our parish. The program will begin with an old-time tent revival on our front lawn next October 11th. Our Parish Council’s President will give the details in a brief presentation immediately after Mass.
All of this is geared towards making 2012 that special year the Mayans promised. We want this fiftieth anniversary of Vatican II to bring the “harmony and understanding, sympathy and trust” promised not by the Age of Aquarius, but by the New Order Jesus referred to as the Kingdom of God.
Join me then in opening ourselves to the Spirit who, Paul tells us in today’s second reading, “prays through us.” Allow the Spirit to pray through you now.
Come Holy Spirit. Fill our hearts as you filled the hearts of the disciples on that first Pentecost. Renew our parish. May God’s kingdom come.
(The pastor sits. While everyone prays, “The Age of Aquarius” plays in the background.)