Pentecost and Protest

Tongues of fire fell suddenly on those poor who had walked closely with one who had no place to lay his head. They appeared upon the unlearned crowns of those educated by one who was well-acquainted with sorrow; held together in fellowship of lives broken, blessed, and given away around the one table he had refused to overturn.

In the gloom, eyes sparkled in understanding beneath the red glow, arcs of light reaching out. An unnatural wind rattled through the darkened room, extinguishing candles while florid petals of flame ignited, licking the matted hair of the sleepless company, binding those who had lost so much into the fraternity of suffering, suddenly sparking the will to act.

They stepped into the morning light and walked toward the city center, tongues loosened by the flames to speak to those who had so recently taken everything from them. They stepped out to speak words of pain and frustration, of warning and of hope. They stepped into the light and held out the dawn to those who had lived in a land of deep darkness.

They called the hearers––those who had so recently cried out crucify!––to repent: to turn back from their belief in violence’s ability to resolve pain, and join God’s work of doing something new in the very midst of old systems of oppression. They gathered by the thousands in the midst of the city and, as soldiers and governors and priests looked on, cried out for change. And that day, these people starving for something new found it.

In the oncoming years, they would be jailed, beaten, lynched, and conspired against. They would be chased from town to town, blamed for riots and fires, for the moral and religious degeneration of a people . . . And yet still the new life grew from the midst of the old one’s dead rot, until, what started as the cry of a single people in one hurting city––fed up with oppression and weighed down with hopes long deferred––transformed into a global movement of freedom and eternal life. Not freedom from life into some hereafter, but freedom for life in the here and now.

The powers––with their monopolies on legal violence––did their damnedest to crush the nascent hope. They sent in their soldiers and infiltrated meetings, they prayed to their gods and closed the treasury’s coffers. Yet the violence done rebounded upon the state that had perpetrated it. As the man whose death let loose the cries of change had absorbed the hatred and pain and misunderstanding of his torturers until they could not bear it, so too did his imitators receive the very worst from the powers and offered only love in return––love and a demand for change. 

And so the powers had no other choice but to crumble under the heaviness of such weighty hope. What looked like the uprising of a riotous rabble in the heat of the day in the middle of a city exploded into a new humanity that refused to die or be silenced by the old.

Of course, it too has struggled to keep the faith and remain on the path of the one who founded it by his death and life––violences have been done in the name of the one who refused all violence––but still the new life surges on, guided every so often by new winds. 

I say “new,” but it is the very same that bore tongues of fire on the heads of those downtrodden prophets who had had their fill of fear and violence. And it is blowing again. If we will attend, they will transform our death into new life. Let us see and hear, repent and be baptized.

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