Tracking down the Holy Ghost

November 19, 2003

Advent, the season which begins the church year, is a time of waiting and expectation. During these weeks we prepare ourselves “in the time of this mortal life” for Christ’s coming among us. As the collect for the first Sunday in Advent makes plain, Christ coming among us has different dimensions. There is the historical event of some two millennia ago in Bethlehem in which the Word became flesh in the person of Jesus. There is the promise of a future coming when all will be gathered up into Christ. As well, there is the daily inbreaking of Christ who comes to us in the events and circumstances of our lives.

Though we delight in looking back at the past event with reverent joy, and we anticipate being gathered up in some rapturous future, it seems far more difficult for humankind to stay grounded in the present moment with its stresses and strains, and to discern the presence of Christ in the midst of it all. Yet, as hard as it is to hold on to sometimes, Christ is always coming among us: in virtue of the resurrection, Christ’s self revelation continues through the agency of the Holy Spirit to this very day.

As Jesus told his disciples in the Gospel of John: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth…He will take what is mine and declare it to you.” The risen Christ is always making known more about himself and expanding his ongoing work of drawing all things to himself. There is always more for us to learn – both about who Christ is in our lives and what it means to have the Reign of God in our midst.

As I stood at the door greeting parishioners following a recent Sunday liturgy, one of them shook my hand enthusiastically and declared with a broad smile: “This is a great time to be an Episcopalian.” Quite naturally, I agreed with him! I too believe this is a great time to be an Episcopalian, and certainly not because everything is easy and tranquil. As your chief pastor I am exceedingly mindful that recent events in the life of our church have left some among us deeply troubled and confused, and their concerns are very much on my heart.

Having said that, I believe the very challenges of these present days are calling us to a new and deeper understanding of what it means to be the body of Christ. We are all in this together, and it is a great time to be an Episcopalian because we are all being stretched and something more is being made of us. Something is being drawn out of us, regardless of our points of view, or whether we are feeling joy or sorrow.

Growing to maturity in Christ is not easy and obliges us to ask ourselves a number of questions. How ready are we to welcome Christ’s continuing self revelation? How ready are we to live with a “kingdom consciousness” knowing that this consciousness enfolds all things with an unyielding compassion, transcends our human judgments, and confounds our tidy and defensive notions of how God should and ought to act in the world? How ready are we to make room for the One who is always making all things new and drawing us out of our places of comfort and security? How available are we to the demands life places upon us and to the complex realities that confront us? These are very proper Advent questions for us as individuals, and for us as the Episcopal Church.

Yes, indeed, this is a great time to be an Episcopalian. Something more is being made of us. What that something is remains to be seen, but it has to do with who we are together in Christ beyond our comprehension or imagining. As we are told in the first letter of John, “What we will be has not yet been revealed.” It is my confident sense that God in Christ is at work in us through the Spirit, and that through all we are living at this present time we are “growing up” into the fullness of who God desires us to be, not just as individuals but together as the risen body of his Son.

The author Flannery O’Connor once described the writer’s task as following lines of spiritual motion from the surface of life into that deep place where revelation occurs. “This is simply an attempt to track down the Holy Ghost through a tangle of human suffering and aspiration and idiocy. It is an attempt that should be pursued with gusto.” This challenging task does not belong only to the writer but to all of us who have been baptized into Christ. In this Advent season may we be faithful to our task of tracking, and may we do it with gusto.