The Oval Loop
  • Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Day of Pentecost

First reading and psalm: Acts 2:1-21Ps. 104:25-35, 371 Cor. 12:3b-13John 20:19-23

Alternate: Num. 11:24-30Acts 2:1-21John 7:37-39

Imagine for a moment a great oval with its apogee at the top and its nadir at the bottom. Near the top to the right, imagine the Incarnation. Imagine God joining his fullness to our brokenness. Imagine his wholeness and his health and his eternal nature being joined to our limitations, our weakness, and our finitude. And then the descent begins: down and down and down. Along the way are joy and laughter, friendships, and wine — enjoyed and multiplied.

Down further, we reach betrayal, denial, rejection, the pillar and crown of thorns, nails, sour wine, the spear and the cross. And then the nadir, beyond our eyes: hell itself. This is the bottom of the journey. Christ travels to the bottom of our isolation, our humiliation, and our death. Then comes the ascent. The Resurrection explodes! Our nature and God’s nature, joined in one person, comes up from the bottom. Eyes grow wide; nail scars are touched; wounds are examined. The human and divine are pulled back toward God. And then, the apogee of the oval: the Spirit of the Living God spills forth.

The 1979 Book of Common Prayer makes suggestions for the most appropriate occasions for baptism, and the editors were right to push the Easter Vigil as the main event. The runner-up, so to speak, has a very good claim nonetheless. Pentecost began as a Jewish feast. Passover marked Israel’s liberation from bondage in Egypt and then Shavuot, 50 days later, marked God giving the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai. Hellenistic Jews called the feast Pentecost because it occurs 50 days after Passover.

The relationship between these feasts is important for our purposes. Note that God first liberates his people from bondage at Passover and then reconstitutes them as his people by giving them the law at Pentecost. For Christians that festal design is roughly repeated. On Easter God liberates his people from the bondage of sin and death, and on Pentecost God constitutes them as his people — the ecclesia, the Church, the body of Christ itself — by giving them the Holy Spirit. The movement is from Exodus to reconstitution, from liberation to community formation. Easter is not the end of the story and it is not the end of God’s work.

How do we enter the Body? How are we incorporated? We walk through the death and resurrection of Jesus and make a claim on both the resurrection and the outpouring of the Spirit. We call this baptism. We enter the oval loop; we enter Christ. Commenting on Paul, Trevor Hart writes that salvation is fundamentally about being in Christ. As baptized Christians, we were in Christ in his historical redemptive acts; we are in Christ through faith and the indwelling of his Spirit; and we shall be in Christ when the consummation of all things comes.

Baptism, much like the Eucharist, involves us in the past, the present, and the future. As Hart explains, this is not simply fire insurance or a policy we can cash in when we die. Nor is baptism simply a rite of passage or a nice ceremony we have for our precious infants. In baptism, the body is enlarged and life is never the same. If we think in these terms, the somewhat jarring words of Cyprian of Carthage make sense: only in Christ — in his body — is there salvation.

Look It Up
Read 1 Cor. 12:12.

Think About It
Can one claim to be in Christ but live outside the body of Christ?

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