Pentecost, 2019, John 20:19-23
But most people are only very little alive
T S Eliot, After Strange Gods
Issues from the hand of time the simple soul
Irresolute and selfish, misshapen, lame,
Unable to fare forward or retreat,
Fearing the warm reality, the offered good
T S Eliot,
Issues from the hand of God, the simple soul
A line concocted from Dante’s Purgatorio XVI.
Contained existence is always offered emergent, spirit enabled new life
In John’s version of the Pentecost story in John 20: 19-31, it is Sunday evening. Three days have passed since the execution of Jesus. A group of Jesus’ followers hide behind locked doors. They are afraid of the Jews. They have already heard testimonies from people who have encountered the crucified-risen Christ.
Yet, Good Friday has left them a broken, disheartened community. Loss, guilt, betrayal, and failure mark and bind each of them, “Unable to fare forward or retreat” (T S Eliot), they are ““only very little alive”, and in danger of living “a buried life”, to use Eliot’s central animating idea in his poetry about humanity’s ability to live a fully fulfilled life. This contained existence disconnects them physically and mentally from hope and the signs of new life.
Theologian Gerard Arbuckle in his book, Grieving for Change, informs us that when a person or a group experiences the different forms of loss, grief emerges in various forms: “Sadness, sorrow, confusion and even guilt”. He adds, “few people or organisations can relate to the unknown, the unpredictable or chaos without feeling anxiety, apprehension, or fear.”
So here they are, locked away in this room in the process of chaos and grieving: They have lost their leader, their community, their identity, values, and tradition.
They had left everything to join the Jesus movement. Now, their newly acquired identity and meaning is shattered. “Grief is the cost we must pay for loving. We can become so attached to some work, group, or person that when separation occurs we feel that something of ourselves has been destroyed.”
How will they emerge from this process? Will they become defensively and anxiously over-attached to the Jesus they knew, and to the God of the Hebrew Scripture commandments, and to their own interpretation of his teaching? Or will they let go in such a way that new life will arise?
Into their buried, contained existence, Jesus Christ mysteriously appears amongst them, arising as the crucified Risen One. Very much alive, yet redefined and transformed, as they are invited to become! Jesus offers them peace, compassion and emotional support and understanding related to their guilt, fear, anxiety, grief and loss!
Loss and change produce contradictory impulses.
“[T]here is the urge to cling tenaciously to what is lost and … what gave meaning to one’s life; on the other hand, there is the need to rebuild a way of life or new relationships in which what was positive from the past is maintained or even revitalised”. (Arbuckle, 22)
Rev Vladimir Korotkov