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Rabula Gospels Folio Pentecost

After much prodding by Matt, I went over and watched the whole speech by the famous football player at Benedictine College. And then I made the mistake of watching this humiliating moment in American politics. The only thing to two really have to do with each other is that I found them both on the app formerly known as Twitter as I was bashing away at the disorder of my house, and that other people online were laying them side by side, sometimes in the same tweet, and were wishing that the 19th Amendment could be repealed.

But honestly, the mash-up of the two–women yelling at each other about eyelashes and beach hair in the august halls of American Imperialism set in relief against a celebrity football player doxxed and threatened for saying he thinks that women looking forward to marriage and children is a good thing–strikes me as peak 2024. I keep saying that, which is foolish, because it can’t peak every day. I guess I should wait until December to start picking out the bleakest and most annoying moments. Anyway, it’s Pentecost, and this bit, which I usually don’t notice much, so entranced am I by the tongues of fire and the mighty rushing wind, leapt out at me in a fresh way:

“‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
    and your young men shall see visions,
    and your old men shall dream dreams;
even on my male servants and female servants
    in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.
And I will show wonders in the heavens above
    and signs on the earth below,
    blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;
the sun shall be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood,
    before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.
And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

Peter quotes this, as you will doubtless know because you have heard this set of lections so many times over so many years. He is out in the street, preaching to the vast throng of pilgrims who have gathered for the feast. All of the 120 in the Upper Room are out there, and they are speaking “in tongues,” which means that the whole known world is hearing about the mighty works of God in their own heart languages. Peter has to explain what is going on, for the assembly believes they are drunk, so strange is this occurrence. And in the course of his sermon-explanation, he quotes this bit from the prophet Joel.

It must have been so astonishing to the crowd–for they were not just anybody wandering by, but people who came to this place at this particular time to celebrate a feast of the Lord. They were people who had beforehand prepared their minds and hearts and provisions. They came to the place where God had promised to be present. The irony is that he had been, just fifty days before, the very Lamb that bought peace forever. And on this day, of all days, the throng is back, right there when the prophecy is fulfilled. For who expects to wake up in the morning and see any act of God whether mighty or mundane? Don’t we all trudge along, watching the degradation and disintegration but not really expecting anything to happen? Except for more bad things, which are guaranteed to happen every day?

Yet on that day, the fulfillment of all the promises of God came to pass. No longer would anybody have to go all the way to Jerusalem to stand a few moments in the assembly. No longer would weak knees and confused hearts drive those who longed to see the Lord into the shadows. Now the sons and daughters of God opened their mouths and out poured, by the Spirit’s power, the astonishing testimony of God’s mercy. How he came, in Jesus, to be with us, to show us the Father, to die on the cross as the full oblation and satisfaction for sin, how he was laid in the grave and then rose again on the third day, how he ascended into heaven to be seated at the right hand of the Father, interceding for all those who call upon his name.

Incidentally, as I was cleaning my house so desperately, I also listened to this, which added a curious dimension to the babel of Very Online Voices. It is a fascinating conversation about a possible resurgence of belief in the West. At the very end, the token atheist, who had been invited to defend his unbelief, in heartbreaking irony, explained that, “If there were a God who wanted to come to know you and you were openly seeking properly, this is known as the divine hiddenness argument, so long as agnosticism is rational, I think atheism automatically becomes rational, because no God would allow you to disbelieve in him if you were truly open to his wisdom.” The hour had to end, at that point, and everybody turned to go home.

And I thought, but what of the young men dreaming their dreams? And the old and the young prophesying together? For everyone–it really says this in the Bible–who truly seeks will find. Anyone who knocks on the door–for real–will find it giving under that gentle pressure. God is not hiding, though he will never divulge himself on our terms. It is only in the terrible humility of faith that he can suddenly be seen.

Joel is only three chapters long. It is usually the bit about the locusts that alarms and gladdens me. I don’t like seeing everything I love devoured by ugliness and stupidity. I don’t want to be scrolling online. I don’t want to have to vote in the next election. I don’t enjoy all the strange iterations of ecclesiastical ruin. And yet, the promise is that God will restore all–ALL–that the locusts have eaten. And then, in chapter two, that God will be so present in the hearts of believers that they will know him for who he really is. For sure, no true God allows you to disbelieve if you are truly open to his wisdom. Which means the onus is on…well, it’s still on him. For he is the only one with any power. We can only watch and dream and then open our mouths to declare the glory of his name. And also go to church. Hope to see you there!

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