Today we dress the altar table and pulpit and pastor in the color red: the signal that it’s time for Christians to celebrate.
Last week, when in Germany with a team invited by our partner church to be their guests in the forward celebration of the upcoming 500th anniversary of the Protestant Church, marked as beginning on Oct. 31,
we visited Wittenberg where Martin Luther nailed a notice to the church door which served as the town’s bulletin board. It was his invitation to join in restoring the church to its intended call to be followers and servants of Christ.
Our partner church made Ascension Day and last weekend the time to re-commit to that calling that culminated in a celebration on Sunday in Wittenberg attended by:
120,000 people and a brass and vocal choir of several thousand. (The number would have been higher but an earlier rally in Berlin had drew some of the people to that event.)
Under a full sun in 90 degree weather we sang and prayed and witnessed Christians from all over the world – Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant, many dressed like us and others in the garb of Middle East and Africa countries, worshiping together, communing around tables, and after the glorious “Amen,” spreading out blankets for a picnic of shared food; more appeared on our blanket as passersby dropped off a container of pickles, fruit, carrots, or pastry.
Because of the intense sun and to be in the spirit of the day, I bought a commemorative baseball cap which, when some in our group saw it. said, “What are you doing wearing a Trump hat here? Are you making a political statement?”
“What makes you think that?” I asked.
“Because it’s red.”
“But,” I answered, “It’s red for this celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation of the church!”
Because our at-home political climate is so explosive, so fire red, I took the orange and white scarf made for the event and wrapped around the cap in an attempt to redeem the color from any other meaning than the church’s red for celebration.
Red! The color for today, when we immerse ourselves in that moment which follows the Ascension with its peculiar and profoundly ponderous scene of Jesus literally ascending, but not abandoning His dear friends, not making them orphans, for they were to be heirs of the legacy He had promised in that upper room in His first Easter appearance: When …he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’
The Red Day in the life of the church that at long last celebrates the answer to Moses’ plea: Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!’
The flames that had belched from Sinai and the winds that whipped down from the mountain as Moses descended with the Law, appeared again where Jesus’ follower came together for Pentecost.
Wind swept through the room and the mountain’s fire descended to crown their heads and took the shape of a tongue and their speech gave evidence to God’s spirit – within them, making everyone a chosen child of God and a person through whom God was speaking, and in turn, speaking of God.
There, in that room, the Old Testament prophet could be quoted: “In the last days it will be,” God declares,
“that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.”
“Prophesy” – to be a channel through whom God speaks.
Then, and there God was forming a new community that would later take the name “church,”
God’s Spirit, God’s presence, that was in Jesus, would be in all who confess Jesus as Lord and Head of the church, a spirit-filled person, commissioned to a God-appointed service.
Rebekah McLeod Hutto describes that moment into which we step when immerse ourselves in the story as she relates it to children in her book titled: “The Day When God Made Church.”
The story reads:
Pentecost: the day something new happened; the day Jesus gave a wonderful gift, the day all ages and races are called to be something NEW; the rivers of Baptism pour out and we feel God’s love for us and for people everywhere; we become a new family; the Spirit that was in Jesus is now in us!
Pentecost, the day the church was born, a community created to be filled with the Spirit of God that filled Christ, now enlivening us to live His life, do His work. (Adapted from her book)
In the Reformation service last Sunday, the sermon was given in the hot sun with the backdrop of Wittenberg’s Castle Church where Martin Luther had nailed up his call to reform the church back to Jesus’ intended purpose.
The preacher was the successor to Bishop Desmond Tutu, the Most Revd Dr.Thabo Makgoba, Anglican Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa.
Speaking in English, which made his sermon most moving for us, he said, “It is impossible to overstate the contribution of Martin Luther to that part of the world influenced by Europe and its thought.” and he brought that time forward as he said the Reformation “can become our guide, our inspirational GPS, our global positioning system for the next 500 years,”
Then Bishop Makgoba challenged young people in particular (and there were many signing wholeheartedly and listening intently) to htem he directed the charge "to hear the cries of others and of the planet as God would,”
and to take action, “for love’s sake, dignity’s sake, for freedom’s sake, for Christ’s sake.”
He described how Germany in the Nazi era and South Africa under apartheid had “histories of unspeakable cruelty, but they are also histories of God’s unfailing faithfulness.”
His words spoken there in former East Germany with still lingering signs of the atrocities of the Nazis and then the Russians, caused tears to well up as I looked around and thought, “Today’s Germany and today’s South Africa are a witness to the transforming power of the sweeping winds of God’s love, filling, taking over each human life, creating a community committed to the words of Desmond Tutu Bishop Makgoba quoted:
“I have a dream that one day soon all narcissistic, nationalistic, isolationist ramblings of our current times will disappear. I have a dream that instead there will arise a global awareness that we are of one humanity.”
There, for a moment last Sunday, with the backdrop of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, I realized the imperative of the call to let that symbol be our GPS through “all narcissistic, nationalistic, isolationist ramblings of our current times,” to let the fires of God’s cleansing, enlivening Spirit sweep down upon us, to let the old story we read today be the ever new story, to live the reality that this is “the day when God made church.” ...and "church" is the people in whom Christ is present to be present today.
This is the day to show the world a different, life-transforming meaning of the color red.