June 9, 2019.
We will gather together for our Badaliya and Peace Islands Institute faith sharing on Sunday, June 9, 2019 from 3:00 pm to 4:30 pm at St. Paul Church in Cambridge, in the small chapel located in the Parish Center. Please join us in person or in spirit as we encourage Inter-faith relations and pray together for peace and reconciliation in the Middle East and especially in the Holy Land.
Today Christians celebrate the Feast of Pentecost and what is traditionally thought of as the Birthday of the Church. We are invited to gather together with Jesus' disciples and experience the promised gift of the Holy Spirit. With them we experience the strength and power of God expressed in the Acts of the Apostles as "a strong driving wind that filled the entire house" and "tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. They were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim". This story empowers us with the very love and unity of God given to each of us. The Holy Spirit allowed the Jews gathered from "every nation under the heavens" to hear the disciples in their native languages and inspires us too as the Gospel message has been heard in every nation.
We are reminded of the very first book of the Hebrew Bible when God breathed life into "Adam", which means humanity. Let us turn to the sources and meaning of this story from the Hebrew tradition that would have been so familiar to Jesus, his followers and those gathered in Jerusalem for the Jewish festival at the time.
Shavuot, the festival of weeks, marks the conclusion of the seven weeks called the "counting of Omer" dating from Passover. It is both a commemoration of the wheat harvest in Israel and celebrates the day when God gave the Torah to the Israelites gathered at Mt. Sinai. The days are counted from the second day of Passover and are meant to be a time of anticipation of the giving of the Torah. The giving of the Torah to the Israelites by God to Moses is celebrated as the beginning of a nation committed to serving God. The harvest of grain in ancient times lasted for seven weeks and was a season of thanksgiving for the successful harvesting.
We see here that from the Resurrection of Jesus to Pentecost has its foundation in the Counting of Omer and that the anticipation of Jesus' promise of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church relates beautifully to the anticipation of the giving of the Torah by God to Moses. The celebration of the beginning of one nation committed to serving God expands to the birth of the Church inviting all people throughout the world to celebrate the message of the unity of God, "characterized by a love that existed before the foundation of the world". (John 17:24) Jesus knew his Jewish tradition and practiced it. His teachings expanded it allowing us to reflect ever more deeply on God's gift of the Torah on Mt. Sinai in the light of the gift of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.
What about Islam? Our Muslim friends have just celebrated the holy month of Ramadan and the moment that the Qur'an was revealed to Muhammad called Laylat-al-Qadr. Surah 97, called al-Qadr, or the Night of Power, beautifully describes it:
"In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, Most Merciful. We have indeed revealed this (Message) on the Night of Power. And what will explain to you what the Night of Power is? The Night of Power is better than a thousand months. Therein come down the angels and the Spirit by Allah's permission, on every errand. Peace, this until the rise of morn".
There are many differences in our three Abrahamic faith traditions but in each the Spirit of God is alive and present. Perhaps the message of unity of Love that breathes life into Being is meant for each of us to hear in his own diverse language.
In tribute to Jean Vanier, the founder of the L'Arche Movement, whose funeral was celebrated in France this month let us move into our summer break with his inspiring words:
"We realize what an incredible gift God has given us, to bring us together from different lands of pain and loneliness, and to become one people. We become more conscious that we are responsible for each other ... Perhaps it is too late. Maybe we do not have the inner force to live community. Perhaps we are all too broken, the inner pain is too great. But somewhere, in the heart of humanity today, there is a cry coming from our own loneliness and the injustices and pain of our world: a cry for community, for belonging, for togetherness and for love."
Blessed Summer and Peace to you,
References:The Glorious Qur'an, translated by Abdullah Yusuf Ali, Asir Media, 2002. Thanks to Cathy Breen, our friend from the Mary House in NYC who reminded us of this quote from Jean Vanier in From Brokenness to Community, Paulist Press. 1992.
(See www.dcbuck.com for all past letters to the Badaliya and Peace Islands Institute)