“Jesus breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.” — John 20:22-23
“Breathe on me breath of God, fill me with life anew.” — Hymn 508
“I can’t breathe.” — George Floyd
Tomorrow we celebrate Pentecost, the great feast of the Holy Spirit. Our songs and scripture readings will be full of references to breath and Spirit. We will hear the words from John cited above, and sing the words of Hymn 508. But those words will be set against the backdrop of George Floyd’s haunting words, uttered with his last breaths as he was being murdered by a Minneapolis police officer.
The backdrop will also include the outrage, grief, and despair about that murder, and all the other taking of lives of innocent black men and women, including Ahmaud Arbery in our own state. Some of those protests have been peaceful, others have not. I know that some of you live frighteningly close to the scenes of last night’s destruction. That kind of violence can never be condoned. Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms spoke eloquently and forcefully to that last night. If you haven’t read or heard her words, I encourage you to do so. Violence is not the answer.
But we cannot allow our revulsion at the violence be an excuse to turn a blind eye to the justified rage and despair behind it. I’ve heard white Americans comment that peaceful protests are more appropriate. And they are. But many of those same people were outraged when Colin Kapernik quietly, peacefully, and respectfully knelt during the national anthem to protest police violence against black men. Throughout the history of this nation, blacks have much more often been the targets of violence from whites — not just physical violence, but financial and emotional violence as well. Martin Luther King said, “A riot is the language of the unheard.”
On that first Pentecost the breath of God swept the disciples into the streets to proclaim the Gospel. This week George Floyd’s lack of breath has propelled people into the streets to proclaim their grief and outrage. Both are works of the Spirit. I am not saying the violence is of the Spirit. But the impulse to gather to express grief and anger is.
We like to think of the Spirit as a gentle breeze, softly nudging us in new ways. And sometimes it is. But the Spirit is also at times a forceful and disruptive wind blowing us toward change, blowing us toward God. It is past time for this country to listen to the unheard and to dismantle the systemic racism that has us in its grip. The answer of how to do that is beyond any of us. But if we listen, the Spirit will show us the steps we each can take to bring this world closer to the way God dreams it can be.
Tomorrow’s service will have several special additions. We will hear Bishop Wright preach. We will also have a “blessing of the masks.” Have yours with you as you watch. We have a surprise to go with the offertory music.
And because it is Pentecost wear red, the liturgical color of the Holy Spirit. Red pajamas are fine.
The service bulletin for tomorrow is here:
See you in the morning at 10. Have your masks ready to be blessed tomorrow morning.