I have a friend whose opening words are always – ‘so what’s happening – nothing?!’. The greeting has its origin from a time when we had a catch-up and after chatting about the many events of our lives around family, work and life in general – she concluded the conversation with – ‘so, nothing much happening then!’. We laughed our ways to our respective cars and it has been our joke ever since.
And for many of us, there is always so much going on. It is rare, I suspect, for there to be a time when we feel as though all is tranquil and calm. It is not often that our quiet times fill with a sense that everyone and everything is travelling well, that there is no-one to be worried about and nothing to be concerned for. These moments of quiet may be filled with thoughts: about a loved one who is ill, a child who is unhappy, a partner struggling in some area of life. Perhaps our thoughts turn to thinking about a relationship that is not unfolding as we had hoped, or we may carry the regret of an opportunity missed or the lament that a mis-spoken word or an unkind act can bring. Many of us (regardless of age) live with some sort of underlying anxiety – an anxiety that can be hard to soothe away from our minds and hearts. And that’s before the news of the world-troubles come to our minds. We may feel that we carry full minds into our full days.
But I suspect it has ever been thus. As we journey through this Easter Season time we have the opportunity to take into our minds and hearts the stories of the very earliest Christians. And how dramatic they are! Saul the persecutor of the followers of Jesus becomes Paul the messenger of the Good News, his life forever altered as a result of his encounter with Jesus. He, along with a trusty (small) band of disciples, endures significant physical and emotional challenges. His travel was rigorous and the invitation he offered into the world of the Good News came at great cost. There are times when the antipathy he faced is palpable. During his earthly life we learn that Paul was stoned, imprisoned, ship-wrecked and eventually beheaded. I wonder if Paul might have been the earliest person accused of perpetuating fake news!
I imagine that Paul, too, must have had many anxious nights and stressful days. And yet in the midst of it all, something propelled him forward. Something continued to encourage him to reach out, to speak the word of peacemaking visible the face of Jesus. Through dialogue, conversation and with formidable energy he, along with the earliest groups of believers, worked to establish their communities. Disputes were resolved, dis-belief was coped with and, sometimes, it was necessary for them to shake the dust from their feet and walk on. And occasionally, there was peace.
These early authentic servants of the tradition held close the message of the risen Christ. They were attuned to the whisper of the spirit and they, in spite of everything, set their hearts and minds on God. On Tuesday of the seventh week of Easter we will read a message from Paul to the elders of the church of Ephesus:
… I am on my way to Jerusalem, but have no idea what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit, in town after town, has made it clear enough that imprisonment and persecution await me. But life to me is not a thing to waste words on, provided that when I finish my race I have carried out the mission the Lord Jesus gave me – and that was to bear witness to the Good News of God’s grace. (Acts 20:22-24)
So as we move toward the great feast of Pentecost may we build upon the work of our earliest ancestors and join with them in the profound sense that in the midst of it all the Spirit continues to breathe life into this world of ours. And may the Spirit of Pentecost bless us with courage and peace and breathe new energy into the work of the Church enabling us to continue to show the face of the Good News – Jesus.