People in the Christian church have now entered the season of Pentecost.
Coming 50 days after Easter, Pentecost ushers in the longest period in the Western church’s liturgical calendar – a period often referred to as “Ordinary Time” that continues until Advent.
At the same time, the broader U.S. society is beginning to emerge from a long, wearying period of enforced isolation, changed lifestyle and uncertainties about the future.
Is there a way one transition might inform the other? A way the faith of Pentecost might provide insight as we move into the post-COVID-19 world?
Let me suggest we view a pair of pictures, radical ones, from the scriptures: the Tower of Babel and Pentecost.
The picture of the Tower of Babel is of a people divided from each other by language.
Unable to communicate with the other, they are smarting from a failed effort to “make a name for themselves,” as the story puts it. This flawed initiative derived from an “Us First” philosophy, which had no regard for the diversity of creation.
Human differences have become a problem for them. The outcome of their action is “confusion,” separation from each other, and an inability to understand one another or their conflicting passions.
It is a world in which one has difficulty in discerning what is true and what is not. We needn’t look at this picture long before we notice something uncomfortably familiar about it.
Is this a picture of our situation? A picture of our conflicted world community, perhaps of our bifurcated, divided nation – or even of our relations with “others?”
The scriptures, thankfully, provide another picture – that of Pentecost.
In it, we see people from all over the human landscape representing a kaleidoscope of differences – people with their own language, miraculously hearing and understanding in their own language.
The miracle, we note, is not that all have suddenly become a homogenous entity, but that, with all the diversity of race and tradition, they were hearing and grasping what was being said – hearing and grasping according to their individual understandings.
A different, wonderful (yet challenging!) world that contrasts sharply with the post-Babel landscape.
Emergence from our period of trial may offer the opportunity for newness, for choosing a different and better path with regard to how we relate to one another.
Will we cherish and work toward a world in which diversity is respected and celebrated, each “in our own language,” eschewing both superficial oneness and divisive isolation?
If so, wouldn’t the Holy Spirit – Pentecost’s Spirit – have had something to do with that?
There will undoubtedly be people who fearfully rush to solidify relationships with other “like” people into tribes and fortressed entities. Others, well-meaning but myopic, may strive for a “color-blind” society in which traditions and race are discounted.
Some of the churches of Scotland voice this prayer at Pentecost: “May the exuberant spirit of God, speaking words that leap over the barriers of mistrust, convey messages of truth and new understanding!”
Hopefully, many will choose to make this prayer their own as our social interactions increase during this year’s journey through the season of Pentecost.
Retired pastor of Judson Memorial Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Edmondson previously served the First Baptist Church of Berkeley, California. He is an alumnus of Berkeley School of Theology and Regents Park College, Oxford University. Edmondson was a founding member of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America and in retirement taught in the College of Theology at Central Philippine University. He lives in Oakland, California.