Rev. Doug Floyd
Acts 2:1–11, Psalm 104:25-37, 1 Corinthians 12:4-13, John 20:19-23
In the Eastern Orthodox icon of Pentecost, there are twelve disciples seated in a semi-circle. They are waiting in the upper room for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Upon closer inspection, we might notice that the two disciples at the top of the picture are Peter and Paul. It would not be obvious to us, but Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are sitting around the semi-circle. This is significant because Paul, Mark, and Luke were not part of the original twelve Apostles. What is this icon communicating?
It is giving us a glimpse of the universal or catholic church, waiting for the coming of the Spirit. The twelve men present are representative of all the saints who waited in the upper room, but since Paul and Luke came later, this image is also telling us of the church, the communion of saints, who become a family by the gift of the Spirit. The Russian church uses the word “sobernost” to express this catholicity. It is communion of love rooted in the grace of God revealed in the Eucharist. Jesus joins different humans together in one body by His Spirit creates a family, a communion of love. In that sense, we ourselves also wait with these early saints for the gift of the Spirit. It is all gift: our lives, our faith, our participation in the communion of saints.
There is no roof above those gathered in the room to indicate the open community and open hearts of the people, looking to Jesus as the head and Spirit to come and lead them in the way of Christ.
If you look closely at the icon, you begin to notice that those gathered are carrying scrolls. This is the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ. As the Holy Spirit comes to reveal Jesus, He sends out these leaders to bear witness to Jesus Christ and the Father; to bear witness to the Holy Communion of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit at the heart of all creation. And this really is Good News.
We also carry this scroll in our hearts and on our tongues. For we are witnesses of Jesus Christ. We have been gathered into a communion of saints around the communion of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Witnesses are sent forth as gifts to the world with the Good News upon their lips and in their hearts.
At the bottom of the icon, there is typically a man with a crown who is in a dark room or in a jail cell. This man is the Cosmos. All of creation is in chains. As Paul writes in Romans 8, “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. (Romans 8:21-22)
Cosmos is holding a cloth between his hands and on the cloth are twelve scrolls. This is the Witness of God’s people, the Good News that is revealed by the power of the Spirit and through the people of God. The church even goes so far as to say that the doorway to Cosmos is the door leading out from the church. In other words, when we go forth from the Upper Room of gathered worship, we pass through the gates of hell to rescue captives and lead humanity and all creation back to the Father through Jesus Christ and by the power of the Spirit.
With this icon, we could begin to meditate upon the wonder of the Holy Spirit who gathers us up into Christ, opens our hearts to the love of the Father, prays in and through us, gives us gifts to minister grace to one another and bring the healing balm of the Gospel to the world.
Together, we might contemplate this icon in light of our lessons today. In John 20:21, Jesus tells the disciples, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” The Father sends Jesus reveal Him and to rescue a world bound by sin and death. The life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ is a singular life and singular act that we do not repeat. And yet, as disciples of Christ, we are sent out by His Spirit to bear witness to His saving grace.
Each week we gather in worship. We come to our own upper room to worship, rehearse the gift of God in Christ, to receive His forgiveness, His peace, and His comforting words. We offer ourselves and our gifts in worship even as His transforms our gifts and feeds us with His very life in the Eucharist. We are sent out as a Eucharistic people with His peace in our hearts and His Good News on our lips.
In our lesson from Acts, we see that the Good News is heard by each in his own native tongue. The Parthians and Medes and Elamites as well as those from all across the empire hear and understand the Good News. The Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians hear the mighty works of God in their own tongues. What are those mighty works?
The sermons in the book of Acts point to Jesus and His life and death and resurrection as the mighty work of God. Yet the sermons also indicate that God’s creating and sustain grace is revealed all through Scripture. Our Psalm today, bears witness to the sustaining grace of God in all creation. As we grow in Christ, we begin to realize that His mighty works resound all around us. We come to see and believe that Christ has reconciled us to God and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.
Just as the Holy Spirit raised up the disciples as witnesses, He raises us up and sends us out as witnesses.
Our lesson from Acts also tells the miracle of translation. The various cultures and people groups hearing the mighty works of God. In one sense, each of us become translations of the Gospel. The Holy Spirit works in and through us in our specific contexts to reveal the Good News of God in Christ. Each of us meet a wide range of people. Some struggling with personal problems; some focused on the task at hand; some grieving over death and loss; some angry at injustices. We move toward those people in their specific contexts, trusting the Holy Spirit to give us wisdom and grace to reveal the love of God in Christ.
The Spirit is sending out into the culture, but we may at times feel overwhelmed with all the challenges. Where do we start? There are people in our families, among our friends and even at our work communities who we may be called to serve. At the same time, there are larger challenges all around at local, national, and even international levels.
This week many in our nation have been crying out for justice. By God’s Spirit we are called to speak and act out justice and mercy. One aspect of the Spirit’s work is to send us out as peacemakers rooted in love of Father, Son and Spirit.
Many of us watched in horror at George Floyd died at the hands of police officers. This reinforced a painful narrative in our African American communities about suffering. How is the Spirit calling us to respond? How do we serve as peacemakers?
During this same week, a farm in Rhea County had a migrant worker fall ill with COVID-19. Every worker was tested, and every worker tested positive. Though they receive little press attention, our migrant workers supply most of the fruits and vegetables we buy. They are one of the most vulnerable populations in the nation. Unfortunately, the media is less interested in their struggles. How do we play a role in serving this vulnerable community?
This same week it was announced that Southern Yemen was on the virtual collapse due to the ongoing war and the COVID-19 outbreak. Many medical professionals are infected, many have left the country, and it appears that Doctors without Borders is one of the few groups left to care for the war victims and COVID-19 patients. Unimaginable suffering is happening all around the world though we rarely hear about it in our popular news. How does the church respond?
I believe the Spirit can and will lead us in various directions as we seek to bear witness to the person in front of us as well as the person suffering in other parts of the world. We need His guidance as wisdom as individuals and as a community to respond in the way of love.
There are so many different ways the Spirit can send out His people and translate the Good News of Jesus Christ for those in need. This makes me think of our lesson from 1 Corinthians.
The gift giving Spirit who opens our eyes and hearts to Jesus and the Father, also imparts his gifts to us to serve one another in the community of faith, and to bring the reconciling love of God out into a world that desperately needs the word of grace.
I pray that we will seek to follow the call of God to go out with the Word of Christ on our lips and the love of Christ in our deeds. We might begin praying for local, regional, national and international situations. He can and will direct us in prayer. We might also ask how we can give both our money and our time to serve. We might ask for boldness to speak the Good News of Jesus Christ in loving ways to those around us. We trust that Jesus is leading us and by His Spirit is empowering us to become a people who bring the hope of reconciliation to a world in need.
Our Bishop and Archbishop Foley Beach asked all the churches of the ACNA to pray this prayer this morning from the Book of Common Prayer, and I’ll end with this prayer:
Almighty God, you created us in your own image: Grant us grace to contend fearlessly against evil and to make no peace with oppression; and help us to use our freedom rightly in the establishment of justice in our communities and among the nations, to the glory of your holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (BCP 2019, pg. 659)
 This interpretation of the Pentecost icon is drawn from “The Pentecostal Icon” in The Art of the Icon: A Theology of Beauty by Paul Evdokimov,