By Lynnette Li
This year’s Pentecost is different. Drastically different.
This is a watershed moment that offers to reflect upon our mission and witness as disciples of Christ. Global trade, movement and manufacturing is significantly slowed or forced to a standstill. Many of us have been sheltering in place for several months by now. Many have not had the opportunity to gather as communities of faith in worship, service and fellowship. The global pandemic of Covid-19 has forced us to worship and connect with each other creatively. And perhaps some might say, that this is an opportune time to reflect and re-imagine how our call to be followers of Jesus the Christ is lived out.
In the midst of the global pandemic of Covid-19, we find sanctuary in the safety of our homes. This strikingly mirrors the experience of the early disciples who stayed hiding in the aftermath of Jesus’ persecution and crucifixion. Like the early disciples, we face a mix of uncertainty, fear and grief – for the lives we were accustomed to have changed and may not return. And like the early disciples waiting in the upper room for a more hopeful and hope-filled future, we find ourselves waiting.
As Pentecost draws near, it reminds us of how Jesus told the disciples that a helper, the Holy Spirit, will be sent to teach, guide and remind them of his teachings (John 14:26). For the disciples, who had travelled on dirt roads and rough seas with Jesus, this meant their journey of discipleship continues. Those words of the promise of a helper were words of assurance that they would not be alone to navigate uncertain journeys in Jesus’ absence. Those words brought comfort in a time when their very association with Jesus could lead to severe hardship and persecution.
The word “helper”, or “parakletos” in Greek, is defined as ‘called to one’s aid’. The word parakletos is used to describe an advocate, aid, comforter and helper. We are told that the helper who would empower, advocate, guide and accompany. We are told that the helper energized and animated the disciples to do extraordinary and miraculous things. There is great welcome, humility and celebration to receive this helper – the Holy Spirit. Yet, when it comes to helpers in our midst such as domestic workers and migrant workers, societal attitudes and treatment are different.
The book of Acts captures the drama and excitement of the day of Pentecost. It captures what it was like when the Holy Spirit filled the upper room where the disciples had gathered. And when the Holy Spirit descended into the room, there was a plurality of languages spoken and heard. For many this was beyond amazing. It was bewildering! For some, the speaking of languages from far and wide was ridiculed. For others, this moment of speaking in variety of languages by the disciples was dismissed, unwelcomed and considered a public display of drunkenness (Acts 2:5-13). This was when the Apostle Peter quotes the prophet Joel
In the last days it will be, God declares,
I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
In those days I will pour out my Spirit;
And they shall prophesy.
Acts 2:17-18; Reference Joel 2:28-29, NRSV
The Apostle Peter reminds us that the outpouring of God’s Spirit on all flesh is an act of radical inclusion. This notion is tremendously revolting to some as “all flesh” would include those who are in the fringes of society. When those who are in the margins proclaim prophetic words that reveal the brokenness of society, what is our response, reaction and reception to their words? Is there celebration and welcome to the embodiment of the Spirit in all, even those considered least among us? Or is there ridicule, contempt, denial or refusal to acknowledge that the generosity of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit goes beyond our prejudices and biases?
The embodiment of the Holy Spirit on all flesh makes us re-think, re-imagine and reconsider what radically inclusive and hospitable communities can look like. The pouring out of the Holy Spirit on all flesh is a destabilizing and defiant movement against the dehumanizing ways of racism, colourism, xenophobia, sexism, heteronormativism, ageism, ableist, classism, casteism, nationalism, elitism and all form of systemic oppression. The pouring out of the Holy Spirit on all flesh forces us to recognize the intrinsic worth and dignity in every human being. This is what transformative power does! The power that reveals our culpability and complicity in systems of oppression that causes suffering of another. The power that calls us to dismantle patriarchal and hegemonic ways. The power that is liberates and frees all to be who they are without conforming to gender, social and cultural norms!
Pentecost allows us to move into new realities of freedom, liberation and just-living – a reality of the fullness of life beyond Empire. Can we allow the Holy Spirit, as helper lead us into such a reality?