Christmas. Easter. Pentecost.
Incarnation. Death & Resurrection. Holy Spirit.
These three tie together the key elements of what we call God's work of "salvation."
The Bible understands salvation as new creation. God creates a people, they sin and go into exile, then God reformulates the people and returns them to the land--a new creation. The Apocalypse talks of the old heaven and old earth passing away and a "New Jerusalem" coming from above.
In Christmas celebrations we remember the nativity of Jesus, His birth, but we ponder the incarnation, God become flesh. The fallen human nature (do we understand there is a "something"--our shared humanity--which has been ruined by sin?) is taken up into God. His act of becoming human sanctifies our very existence. This is a great grace and it is salvific. It also means that what happens in that human body--Jesus' life and death--can now be a bridge. He is in both realms: human and divine. He is the stairway to heaven.
In Easter we celebrate the victory of God. His Chosen One was crucified (He is High Priest and Lamb) and His shed blood is the sacrifice which makes us clean, the sin offering which sets us right with God and the embrace of the realm of death into the Creator of Life. Can Hades hold Heaven? Not long... On the third day He rose again from the dead. Death has no more power. Sin has been defeated. We belong to a new King and our human nature now has a wonderful new quality. We are made Sons (and Daughters) of God!
In Pentecost the last piece is put in place prior to the Final Trumpet. Jesus is enthroned in heaven; this is expressed in John's Gospel by the words "raised up" and "glorified" in reference to the cross. Luke provides a timeline, forty days and an ascension. Jesus hands over His spirit on the cross (in the Fourth Gospel) and then at His appearance He breathes on them and says receive the Holy Spirit. Luke identifies today (Pentecost) as the event where the promised gift was received. The Gospel authors are trying to express in words a process which unfolded over time in the lives of the believers. This process continues today. Even now the Holy Spirit is among us. He makes us holy, godly and provides us with gifts and strength. The work of God among us and within us is hardly discernable much of the time. We know that we are made His by the presence of His "breath" (or wind, or Spirit) which animates us. We are in the final preparations for His coming.
Liturgical Christians mark their calendars with these three days (which are also seasons: the twelve days of Christmas and the fifty days of Easter, and, this year, the twenty seven Sundays after Pentecost). In some places today is a high, holy celebration. Not so much in these parts. The pagans, the secularists and the typical Christian is unaware of today's value. Some would even denigrate it. Even we who celebrate it do so as a surprise good fortune (I am glad I am there for the red color and celebrative talk of the Holy Spirit). Yesterday was graduation day at our local high school. I fully expect several families to take today off to recover from the festivities. We place higher value on graduation than we do Pentecost. You can go to church anytime, right?
I often ponder, what if we got it right? What if our lives (my life!?!) were shaped and formed by what matters most. What if the great days of salvation were actually spiritual holidays and high holy days for our heart and souls? What if every day was shaped, first and foremost, by the liturgical calendar, that is, by the worship focused and God centered?
We would all ponder the same words from Morning and Evening Prayer and Eucharist. We would be pondering the same revelation and reveling in the same sacred mysteries. We would all face in the same direction, together, and for parts of the day be shaped by the same saving message.
I do not expect 400 or more to cram our church today to celebrate the third Feast of the Christian "Triple Crown" of Salvation. I wish it would be so, but I know it will not. In fact, we may be down a bit as dozens of my faithful parishioners play hooky. And the unfaithful ones will not give it a second thought. I take some solace in knowing that most think God does not care if you go to church or not. I take some solace in hoping that they are right. God's desire to save does not limit itself to church goers. However, there is a part of me that wonders: if God does not care about what we are doing here in prayer and worship, then should we? Should we do it at all? (I realize this is dangerous either/or thinking, but I am pre-programed in that direction.)
The Bible says that before the Return of the King there will be a time of bitter persecution. Hearts will turn cold and faith will all but disappear. Are we at the brink of another such period of birth pangs? Is the loss of interest in church a warning of coming persecution? For thirty years I have carried this belief within me. I "knew" that "it" was coming. The loss of connection with the liturgical year is but one sign of it, in my mind. The good news? Jesus said "do not fear the world, I have overcome the world." Need we fear the suffering? Paul will say today in church (Romans 8:14-17) "...you have received a spirit of adoption....we are children of God...heirs of God and joint heirs of Christ, if, in fact we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him." So, no, the suffering while unpleasant is also part of the salvation.
Be faithful, suffer bravely "and do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid" (John 14:27; today's Gospel). And worship today, worship and celebrate the gift of salvation in the coming of the Holy Spirit!