Sunday was Pentecost, the first day of the Christian church, when the presence of the Holy Spirit appeared as tongues of fire above the heads of Christ’s disciples.
It was a strange, and a fitting, day to talk about fire. A strange and fitting day, too, to talk about that day’s miracle: the reimagining of disparate bodies, disparate communities, into a single, though by no means uniform, body of Christ.
The first Scripture reading of the service Sunday, as is customary for Pentecost, came from the Book of Acts. It is the story of how the Holy Spirit’s tongue of fire looses the tongues of the diverse people of Jerusalem, all of whom hear the disciples prophesy in their native language.
“Each one heard them speaking in his own language,” we learn. Each wonders at how “Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians, we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.”
It is one of so many reminders in the New Testament of what Christianity not only is, but must be: a faith that at its best transcends divisions of race, of class, of gender, even as it preserves our understanding of one another as fully embodied, irreducible and earthly persons: people whose experiences, embedded in those of the whole world, are mediated by the interconnected lattice of their identities.
So too our second lesson, from First Corinthians: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” The Christian body, at Pentecost, is defined as one in which all are at once united and distinct: in which we are all welcome as our full selves, in our own language.
Sunday, too, in the midst of the nationwide protests in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, by a white police officer, protesters in New York tagged the Catholic St. Patrick’s Cathedral with Black Lives Matter slogans and “f— the NYPD.”
CNN’s law enforcement analyst James Gagliano put it in terms of defilement on Twitter: saying “Protesters” desecrate St. Patrick’s Cathedral — one of the most sacred Catholic Churches in the world.
New York City tonight: “Protesters” desecrate St. Patrick’s Cathedral — one of the most sacred Catholic Churches in the world. pic.twitter.com/7KHueVmEw6
— James A. Gagliano (@JamesAGagliano) May 31, 2020
To imagine that a church could be desecrated by political protest against inequality; by the furious and outspoken pursuit of justice; by the affirmation that the lives of those who have been historically marginalized and dehumanized have value, not merely by anodyne and automatic default (as in the oft-disingenuous use of the counterphrase all lives matter) but in a full and real way, is to catastrophically misunderstand the message both of Pentecost, and of Christianity as a whole.
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Source: Religion News Service