Posts From June, 2019

The Feast of Pentecost

Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras

The Feast of Pentecost, June 9, 2019.

 

 

Please join me in prayer. Heavenly King, Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, everywhere present and filling all things, Treasury of blessings and Giver of life: come and abide in us, cleanse us from every impurity and save our souls, O Good One.

 

The Jewish festival of Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks in English started in the evening of Saturday, June 8 and will end in the evening of Monday, June 10. Shavuot is celebrated seven weeks after Passover. “Shavuot has a double significance. It marks the all-important wheat harvest in Israel (Exodus 34:22), and it commemorates the anniversary of the day when God gave the Torah to the nation of Israel assembled at Mount Sinai.”[1] The alternative name for Shavuot is Pentecost in the ancient Greek language. Pentecost is set up a day to seven weeks after Easter. It means 50 because (7×7=49).

 

According to the book of the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 1:15), the disciples, the Virgin Mary, and other women, along with 120 followers of Jesus gathered to celebrate God’s gift of the Torah and the gift of harvest. They were unaware that another gift was coming. This new gift is the Holy Spirit, which led them to leave their gathering house and go to the world to preach the good news. Pentecost marks the birthday of the church. Today our church becomes more than 2000 years old.

 

The feast of Pentecost is one of the ancient feasts in the church. The book of Acts 20:16 records that the apostle Paul celebrated the feast of Pentecost. It also means that Paul wanted to celebrate the feast of Shavuot. In the time of the apostle Paul, the church was part of the Jewish community and celebrated Jewish feasts.

Someone might ask, didn’t Jesus, according to John 20, give the Holy Spirit to his disciples immediately after his resurrection? “21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” The answer is yes. But remember that the gospel of John is not interested so much in chronology (when things happen). Instead, he is interested in linking resurrection, ascension, and Pentecost closely together.

Pentecost teaches us that we need one another. Pouring out the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost expresses the need to appreciate our neighbor who is different than us. “Pentecost is celebration of unity in diversity,” says Pope Francis.[2] All languages are appreciated. The many languages that the apostles spoke indicate a new era of unity and equality but not sameness. All cultures and ethnicities are equally important and precious in the eyes of God. The barriers and privileges that divided people on a personal and national level have been destroyed. The feast of Pentecost teaches us that the time of Pentecost is the time when war, argument, division and discrimination decrease, and love, and unity, along with diversity increase.

 

 

The apostle Paul teaching on our new identity in Christ through the Holy Spirit.

14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:14-17).

 

 

As the Holy Spirit empowered the disciples and the 120 followers of Jesus Christ to preach and live the gospel, the same Holy Spirit empowers us to do the same. Each one of you received the Holy Spirit in your baptism. You have the power of the Holy Spirit to do the impossible. Jesus says 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover” (Mark 16:17-18). You can perform these kinds of miracles and even more because you have the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

Happy Birthday to the Church of Christ all over the world! Happy birthday to you, who are the body of the Church!

 

 

[1] Wikipedia. “Shavuot.” Accessed June 7, 2019. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shavuot.

[2] Pentecost is a celebration of unity in diversity, pope says By Cindy Wooden Catholic News Service 6.4.2017 6:06 AM ET. http://www.cbn.com/700club/pentecost_diversity.pdf

The Feast of the Ascension of our Lord‎

What does it matter?

Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras

The Feast of the Ascension of our Lord.[1] June 2, 2019

 

 

Peace be with you from God, our father and Jesus Christ our Savior, and the Holy Spirit our Sanctifier.

 

What has to do with you the ascension of our Lord? Is it important? There are very significant events in Jesus earthly life. For example, the birth of Jesus is very significant because God became a human being, one of us. The crucifixion of Jesus Christ saved me from sin, and his resurrection saved me from death. How the feast of the ascension effects my faith and life. Today many Christians look at the ascension of our Lord as fiction or unrealistic. We need to uncover the Jewish understanding of heaven and earth to understand the significant meaning of the ascension.

 

Our world today is impacted by ancient Greek philosophy. We tend to believe that heaven and earth are worlds apart. Greek philosophy teaches that the world is a prison, and our body is a prison; our soul is longing to escape this body. Death is a beautiful moment because it liberates the soul from the body. Salvation, according to ancient Greek philosophy, means getting out on this world to heaven. Do not we think in this way?

 

The Jews do not think that way.  The first century Jews understood heaven to be the realm of God and angels, and the earth is the realm of God’s creatures. Heaven and earth are not radically separate, but they are linked. The purpose of salvation, according to the Jewish faith, is not about escaping this sinful world and go to heaven, but rather the transformation of this earth by heaven.

 

For instance, after Peter confessed that Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus tells him “19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19). The Lord’s prayer comes out of deeply Jewish sensibility. “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). This prayer is about heaven and the earth are coming together. When we pray this prayer, we invite God to reign on earth as God reigns in heaven. Another example is from our Eucharist/Holy Communion liturgy. We sing the heavenly song that is recorded in the book of Isaiah, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isaiah 6:3). God does not distance Godself from our world.

 

In terms of Jesus resurrection, the Jewish understanding of heaven and earth are the context of the resurrection. The resurrection is not about Jesus escaping his body. The resurrected body of Jesus is very emphasized in the Gospels. Jesus tells his disciples that he is not a ghost because he has a body. To prove that he is not a ghost, he asks to eat, and his disciples offer him fish. The purpose of stressing on Jesus resurrected body is to underline that his soul is not in a distant place.  The descriptions of Jesus resurrected body reflect the Jewish sensibility.

 

In terms of Jesus ascension, his ascension is not like NASA rocket trip to space. It does mean the translation of this earthly reality into the heavenly dimension. Furthermore, the ascension of Jesus is collocated with the Pentecost. A something of earth goes up into the heavenly realm, and something from heaven comes down to the earthly realm. It is the meeting of heaven and earth; the transformation of earth by heaven.

 

Let us go back to my first question. What has to do with you the ascension of our Lord? The church is the mystical body of Jesus. In our baptism, we are transformed by Christ and his heavenly power. Our calling is to continue his work of bringing heaven and earth together. Jesus gives us his Great Commission in Matthew 28:16-20

 

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

 

The ascension of Christ is significant to the church because his ascension commands us to be his witnesses on earth.  Our calling is to go to the world and do what we can to bring heaven and earth together. Our Christian vocation is to help those who live in darkness to taste heaven here on earth. Our calling is to bring heaven down to earth.

 

 

[1] This sermon was inspired by

Bishop Robert Barron, “Why the Ascension of the Lord Matters,” Word on Fire, May 27, 2011, https://www.wordonfire.org/resources/article/why-the-ascension-of-the-lord-matters/22310/.