The Easter Mystery
June 1st, 2001
Pentecost, which we have managed to domesticate liturgically, is a dangerous feast for us, just as it was for the disciples. They were hardly ready for Pentecost, even though they had been told to wait in the city for power from on high. They had gathered innocently in the upper room to keep a Jewish festival which combined the barley harvest with a commemoration of the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai. Suddenly everything is turned upside down, and the familiar themes of God's abundance -- as reflected in the harvest, and the gift of identity -- symbolized by the giving of the law, are sounded once again but in a completely new key. As by a mighty rushing wind and tongues of fire they were blown through and refined. They discovered that their lives were no longer their own but the life the Risen Christ was now living in and through them (Galatians 2:20).
The Holy Spirit -- the Spirit of the Risen Christ -- blows where it wills and is sovereign and free. Therefore, we must always be ready for surprise and the disconcerting inbreakings that disrupt our carefully tended patterns of thought and understanding. Encounters that overtake us without warning can break us open to enlargements of understanding and new ways of being.
Through the agency of the Holy Spirit each one of us in baptism is not only taken into Christ but Christ becomes present in us. In a very real sense each baptized person is a sacrament of Christ's real presence in the world. Through the Holy Spirit each one of us is given gifts to empower us for some aspect or dimension of Christ's continuing work and ministry of reconciliation.
These gifts are not mere abstractions. Their very specific nature is usually discerned in the context of our own life and experience. We seldom know what gifts we possess until they are literally pulled out of us by the circumstances in which we find ourselves. How many of us have found ourselves confronted by risky situations for which we felt totally inadequate, and yet some force, some inner conviction, overrode our fear and we spoke or acted in ways that altogether surprised us. And yet, as we later reflected upon what happened, we could see that the grace of God had been at work. In such moments we know, as Paul did, that Christ's grace is always sufficient and that the power of Christ is paradoxically realized in the midst of our own weakness and inadequacy.
It is through word and action and the givenness of our lives that Christ continues to reveal himself and make himself known to us as the Lord of the Present, and not simply a religious figure from the past. Scripture, at its heart, is an account of myriad flesh and blood encounters with the mystery of God present in very real situations and very real and specific lives.
As we look ahead to the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, which will take place in July in Denver, Colorado, it is important for us to be mindful of Christ's real presence in each of those who will represent their dioceses as deputies and bishops. Each one brings a particular dimension or aspect of Christ's presence with them -- shaped and formed by the patterns of their own faithfulness and the circumstances of their lives. As such, the bishops and deputies represent together something of Christ's own fullness. Therefore, an important aspect of the Convention is the respectful and careful attention that each participant must give to one another -- not simply as fellow Episcopalians to whom we are polite, but as living signs of the Risen Christ. Such an awareness is all the more important when emotions run high and issues become causes and lose a human face.
The truth we seek together is the truth of the One who declares himself to be the Truth. And just as the historical encounter with "what the truth is in Jesus" (Ephesians 4:21) involved flesh and blood encounters with the man called Jesus in all his Galilean singularity -- so too, as we seek to discern the authentic motions of the Spirit of Truth, we can only do so through flesh and blood encounters with one another in all the givenness of our personal histories and experience.
May we therefore stand ready -- personally and as a church -- to encounter the bold imagination of our God in one another and in the life we share, both as members of Christ's risen body and the human family in all its rich variety.
The Most Reverend Frank T. Griswold
XXV Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church, USA