As we come to the celebration of Pentecost, we end the festival cycle of the Church Year (Christmas and Easter being the other two great feasts) and move into Ordinary Time (not common place but ordinal or of the calendar). It is interesting to me how even professing Christians will spend a lot of time and money on Christmas decorations, music, activities and church programs. They will do a moderate at Easter and almost nothing for Pentecost. Yet, it is because of Pentecost that we have the Church, that mystic Body of Christ all baptized people who are seeking to be disciples of Christ are a part of.
Why the ho-hum approach to Pentecost? Is it because there are no commercial decorations associated with it? No radio station I know of, even ones that call themselves Christian, have been playing Pentecost music for the last month. If you stopped the average person on the street, would they even know what Pentecost is, let alone that it is being celebrated in the Western Church tomorrow? Would you even know it was Pentecost if walked into many faith communities tomorrow? Why is this?
My personal sense is that as we got further away from the Reformation and more groups splintered into even more groups, rejecting anything that smacked of “Roman Catholicism,” we lost the New Testament church’s structure of cycles to remember salvation history, especially that involving Christ’s birth, death, Resurrection, Ascension, and sending of the Holy Spirit. It became more about each community being led by a preacher through their sense of what needed to be preached on that week. We lost the connected sense to the larger Body of Christ that spans all time and history, in every culture and nation. That is especially reflected in much of today’s music for corporate worship which uses “I” language instead of “We” language.
Does this really make a difference? I mean, one is not saved if one follows the Church Year cycle. True but a sense of being part of something larger, timeless and cross-cultural is lost. It is the same loss we feel in society today with the break-down not only of extended family inter-connectedness but also with the breakdown of the nuclear family. Now, any group of people can name themselves “family” and society says, “Amen.”
The point of this article is not social commentary on familial configurations. It is a sense that while society is fragmenting into smaller and smaller units, so is the Church. Our faith communities don’t follow the same calendar such that we can talk with friends who are members of other faith communities about the same themes we are each experiencing in our corporate worship services. Some of my most powerful worship experiences have been overseas where I didn’t know the language but I knew the historic form of the liturgy that this group was also using. I could participate in English while they worshiped in their language. The sense of unity was palpable.
I would like to suggest that one of the ways to strengthen the witness of the Church of Jesus Christ in today’s society is to all unite around the Church Year calendar and its accompanying lectionary as well as the use of the historic liturgical form of Gathering, Word, Meal and Sending. That form can be filled in with a variety of music and words. By using these two frameworks, we would be more visibly united as the Body of Christ to the watching world. We would feel part of a larger, transcultural Body of believers around the world. There might even be less “us vs. them” within the Christian confession.
That kind of unity might trigger a fresh outpouring of the wind and fire of God’s Holy Spirit, igniting God’s people into new ways of caring for the poor and the earth. Come, Holy Spirit, come.