This chapter is drawn from the book, ¨The Community of the Spirit¨ by C. Norman Kraus. He was an observant lifelong Mennonite who served as a missionary, an author, a pastor, and a professor emeritus of Goshen College Indiana. He passed in 2018, and his books cover scripture studies, church history, and what life in Christ can mean for the individual. His life and testimony could truly serve as a Charitist witness to non-violence.
His chapter prompted me to do some research to better appreciate his topic and thoughts.
He bases his thoughts and conclusions on chapter 2 of the Acts of the Apostles. The ´Pentecost´ that the Jews were celebrating was actually the feast of Shavuot-one of the three ´pilgrim festivals´ which called the peoples of Israel to gather in Jerusalem to worship and offer thanks. The impetus for this festival in ancient times was to celebrate the wheat harvest. By Jesus´ time, it had become a feast of thanks for the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai. (For Charitists using these two ancient Jewish lenses, their impact takes on very special meanings: First, a thanksgiving for the ongoing harvest of the Bread of Heaven, where Jesus´ presence is with us in the Eucharist. It is not for us to define how, but simply to celebrate that he is. Secondly, to celebrate not so much the Law-giver, but the Way-Shower, who came among us.)
This feast is why Jerusalem was swollen with so many Jews of other lands and languages.
Kraus makes obvious the link that the author(s) of Acts made between the Exodus and the start of the church. The same symbols are used in both: fire/flame, wind, breath, spirit; languages ( the universality of the Message), and the promise of growth. The Greek pneuma and Hebrew ruach both mean wind, spirit, and breath.
Kraus continues his thoughts and speaks of the ´New Community of the Spirit´ being formed by the Pentecost event. He even makes bold to say that this Event does not mean that ¨you need to accept Jesus as your Savior and find a church you like for support and fellowship.¨ It is rather a group that professes allegiance to the risen Christ that draws us together.
I will be honest. I´ve read this chapter at least once, if not twice a day, for a couple of weeks. I´ve reflected on the chapter 6 questions at the rear of the book and read and re-read Acts:2, and been led to a similar understanding as Mr. Kraus, but from a different perspective.
Throughout this short chapter the terms ´church´ and ´body of Christ´ are used and often interchanged. But, what is meant by church? What is meant by the body of Christ? How do you define church?
Once, while serving on the rector search committee at St. John´s Episcopal church, we were asked that very same question, and I was startled by how many felt that if we lost the building and had to move because of changing circumstances, it would be the end of the parish! For them the Message was a brick-and-mortar affair; the congregation could not survive without a large, impressive, dominating building.
My new parish home, St. Bartholomew´s, is on the opposite end of the spectrum. They were a storefront congregation for years, and no matter where they worshiped, no matter the circumstances or location, they would go together, set up a sacred place, and take along their clothing ministry.
So again, for you– what is church? Perhaps it is an actual place that provides sanctuary in the Sanctuary for those who need protection or escape; where it serves as a hub for ministries and services; where those areas for service are multi-functional and the actual sanctuary is outsized by the service rooms about it. It is a place where the people are the actual church, where membership is not dependent on a set of beliefs but on the One they seek to please and serve.
What, for you, is the body of Christ? I do not refer to the Eucharist or the reserved Sacrament, but what is meant by the phrase ¨the body of Christ.¨St. Paul speaks of this quite basically in I Corinthians 12:12-27, and elsewhere in the Greek scriptures, using various body parts to signify we are all different, yet have our unique purposes to fulfill.
Was this ´birthday of the church´ actually the start of the continuous spiritual incarnation of the Household of God into the body of Christ? I certainly believe in the organic incarnation of the second Person of the Trinity into the waiting womb of the young Mary of Nazareth to become Jesus bar Joseph.
I have always been taught that this feast acknowledges the Holy Spirit. We wear red to honour Her, and told of Her power and influence on the first Christians. But on this day the Holy Spirit began to knit together a renewed body into which She could breathe the spirit of the risen Jesus. As the Hebrew scriptures record, Adam and Eve were not fully incarnated until God blew into them the Divine Breath. And at this ancient festival, the Holy was now rushing and flowing that Breath into a new body.
The wind and flames were announcements that the ´ divine Spark of Life´ – was drawing together from the masses, people of all stations and backgrounds into fledgling followers, united by their allegiance to the risen Jesus. A spiritual incarnation began and would prove to be continuous until it became synonymous with the Household of God. This incarnation continues until the end of time.
The old adage taught to Christians of the ages: ¨Be in the world but not of it¨ becomes faulty at best, then. We are called to be ¨salt and leaven in the world,¨ ever growing and improving through lessons learned from experience in the world.
The Pentecost Event is thus defined not so much by what or how we believe, but by Whom we follow. And not just follow, but pursue and imitate all our days.
This continuous spiritual incarnation is exemplified not by a perfect society of saints, but composed of human beings striving to be true to the Way, while conquering the more unsavory parts of their humanity. As part of this body, we do not base our relationships on a rote set of beliefs and interpretations, but on the reality that ¨you are part of me, and I am part of you. And together, we are part of Christ.¨ I want to illustrate this if I may, by a memory I have of my cousins and my aunt.
Long ago My Mom and I had gone out shopping one Saturday, and while leaving we ran into my Aunt Rose, who was not very happy. My uncle had dropped her off at the mall and told her one of the kids (my cousins) would pick her up. We offered to take her home, but she declined. ¨One of those damn kids better show up. I can wait.¨ So we sat in our car and waited for one of them to arrive. ¨I even called home and Vicki said she couldn´t come, but would send Taffy, ¨she said. ( This was well before cell phones were in everyone´s pocket.) ¨I heard Taffy say she´d send one of the others because she is busy. So it´s supposed to be Judy, or Marcia, or Joe.¨ We sat and chatted for about 10 minutes, then heard a radio blaring rock music as a pickup screeched to a halt next to us, driven by Joe. He was followed by Taffy in her car, saying she´d gotten done early and came. On cue Vicki pulls up in her car, saying she was able to come after all. Then Marcia and Judy both pull up together in their cars, music pouring out the car windows, and both asking if Aunt Rose was ready to go or did she want to go back in and shop some more, because they did. Poor Aunt Rosie just looked at us and rolled her eyes. She climbed in with Vicki and yelled out the window she was going home to start supper. All the cars revved up and followed straight away, radios competing for supremacy of volume. My Mom looked at me and said, ¨Well, that´s your family. They´ll all be sitting around that supper table yelling at each other as they pass around the beans and rice. And then they´ll fill up the pew at Mass tomorrow.¨
With that in mind, perhaps that´s why Jesus said in Matthew to ¨Seek the Kingdom/Body of Christ/Household of God, and not worry about what you are going to eat or wear. Because the rest of the Kingdom/Body of Christ/Household of God has got you covered. This is the continuous Incarnation of the cosmic Christ, using the ordinary, the simple, the overlooked and the comical, and the desperately loved. Amen.