The Problem of Pentecost: A Festival of Perversion in Two Parts

Part I

For those who follow or are familiar with the liturgical church calender, this past Sunday was Pentecost Sunday. While I wasn’t planning to write a post on this event but, after reading two great posts by Bo Sanders from Homebrewed Christianity, which you can read here and here, and after watching a short Vlog by my friend and Pastor of Riviera UCC Scott Elliot (watch here), I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It certainly wasn’t what was said that bothered me, it was what wasn’t being said. Amidst  all these interesting discussions there was much that I felt was not being addressed or spoken of.

There dramatic differences between what Pentecost is and what it is now. Pentecost, in the Christian faith is an annual celebration of the events depicted in Acts 2, in which the “Holy Spirit” descends upon Jesus’ remaining disciples and those gathered with them in a cramped upper room during the Jewish celebration of Pentecost. The story’s placement within the New Testament canon is representative of a remarkable turning of events for these early Christ followers. It is a landmark moment in their formation.
Occurring not long after the events of Easter, in which Jesus is seen screaming “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” from a merciless Roman cross, Pentecost finds those who once followed the charismatic leader confused and in turmoil in the wake of their leader’s loss. So they gather together in wait, but of what? Here, is what is truly unique  about the text, the pronounced appearance of this “Holy Spirit”, referred to as the Paraclete in Greek, which play a predominating role. Though only briefly mentioned directly, the “Holy Ghost/Paraclete” is rich with symbolism, impact, and implication.
Jacques Lacan, here defines that “The Holy Spirit is the entry of the signifier into the world.” Carl Jung, too, proposes that “It is the task of the Paraclete…to dwell and work in individual human beings, so as to remind them of Christ’s teachings and lead them into the light.” Jung goes on to say that “The future indwelling of the Holy Ghost in man amounts to a continuing incarnation of God.” This represents the democratization of divinity, or what Jung describes as the “Christification of many.”
Slavoj Zizek writes (here) that in the very death of Jesus “with this ‘Father,why did you forsake me?’ it is the God-the-Father who effectively dies, revealing his utter impotence, and thereupon rises from the dead in the guise of the Holy Ghost.” Thus, Zizek states elsewhere that “The ‘Holy Spirit’ is the community deprived of its support in the big Other.” Zizek, unpacking Lacan explains that “the Holy Spirit stands for the symbolic order as that which cancels (or, rather, suspends) the entire domain of ‘life.'” This is a community of loss and in mourning, a group ripped from their ideological grounding, and now haunted by God’s Holy apparition, which seems to be equal parts Ghost of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, combined. It is freighteningly empowering, displaying what has been and what can never be again, the trauma of where we are now, and the weight of responsibility we must shoulder to be who we must now become.
Kester Brewin writes evocatively (here) that an experience such as this “is not about experiencing the sacred in the remains of religious beauty, but about experiencing the abandonment and desolation, the responsibility to the rest of humanity, when we realize the sacred is not found in the stain glass, but in the slum outside the church.” Directly following Peter’s sermon after the in-filling of the Holy Spirit, the text states that “they devoted themselves to…fellowship,” “were together and had everything in common,” “They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need,” and “They broke bread in heir homes and ate together,” “enjoying the favor of all the people” (Acts 2: 42-47). Pentecost then, is ultimately a mobilizing movement that calls the community to their feet, into the streets, and into a deeper fellowship with all of humanity. It is the formation of an egalitarian space that is fluid and non-hierarchical. It is the collective given birth to by the death of God, exploring what it means “to take up the challenges of that absence” (Brewin).
But, is this actually what is now being celebrated when Pentecost is being observed? It doesn’t seem to be.
To be continued…
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3 responses to “The Problem of Pentecost: A Festival of Perversion in Two Parts

  1. Pingback: The Problem of Pentecost: Part II « The Alchemist's Imagination

  2. Pingback: The Alchemist's Imagination

  3. Pingback: (dis)Placing Christian Origins « The Alchemist's Imagination

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