“All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enable them…Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, ‘What does this mean?” (Acts 2:4, 12).
In Acts 2 God gathers a scattered people by fulfilling the promise God made in Joel 2: “In the last days, I will pour out my spirit…” In a bookend to what happened at the Tower of Babel, when people were scattered and their languages became incomprehensible to one another, God now draws people of all languages together and reasserts God’s promise of salvation.
Did you know that there are 7,139 known languages spoken today? As a Vice President of the WCRC, I have become accustomed to hearing many languages when the communion gathers. We employ interpreters who translate so we can do the work of communion and justice in a way that engages all of our voices. It feels like a type of Pentecost, when we speak clearly and listen carefully so that we can understand one another.
We speak different languages--and sometimes even when we speak the same language. We misunderstand one another and find it difficult to listen in order to understand. This happens in the political arena, on social media, and even in the church. As many are impatient to return to “normal” after Covid, we recognize significant injustices that Covid has accentuated. WCRC has engaged “Covid-19 and Beyond”, a process in which we are asking, “What does the Lord require of us?” (Micah 6:8). It is a similar question to the one asked in Acts 2: “What does this mean?”
Pentecost affords the opportunity to learn, or re-learn, the language of the Spirit. First, it is the language of new life. Jesus’ words in John 10:10, “I came that you may have life, and have it abundantly,” are significant for the WCRC. We seek to serve a God of life in all aspects of the communion. In the gift of the Spirit, we relearn and reassert the language of new life for all.
Second, the language of the Spirit is the language of love. When Jesus promised the coming of the Spirit, he said that the Advocate would remind the disciples of all that Jesus had taught them. On the night he was betrayed, Jesus gave a new mandate: that they love one another. Although they didn’t fully understand what lay ahead any more than we do at this moment, the Spirit would teach them to love, which begins with listening.
Third, the language of the Spirit is the language of new confession. After Jesus’ resurrection, the disciples responded by hiding out of fear of the Jews. It was then that Jesus appeared and said, “‘As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (John 20:21-22). On Pentecost, Peter boldly confesses Jesus as Lord. “Covid & Beyond” emphasizes that we must not only be the church which has confessions, but which seeks to boldly confess the God of life in a world fallen among thieves (John 10:10).
Friends, let us seek to relearn the language of the Spirit: a language of new life, new love, and new confession of the God of life as we are called to communion and committed to justice. May we discern together just how God is calling us to live and work together at such a time as this.
—Rev. Lisa Vander Wal
Reformed Church in America
WCRC Vice President
As a denominational executive, and as a member of the steering committee of CANAAC—the Caribbean and North American Area Council of the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC)—I’ve been reflecting lately on the state of our world, our nations—especially in North America—and the multiple divisions that we see in our society. As events develop, it seems that all of our institutions—governmental, societal, and even our religious institutions and churches—seem to be reacting to the world’s events as they occur. And with all of this reacting, it makes me wonder, who is leading?
As Christians, followers of Jesus Christ, I believe that our Lord has something to say about this condition in which we find ourselves. Amidst all of the splintering, arguing, disagreement, and discord, what if there were institutions that modeled a different path? What if there were institutions that epitomized a different way—a way of respect for each other, a way that demonstrates care and concern for each other, and yes, a way that demonstrates the possibility that we can care for each other and love each other even as we love ourselves?
As it turns out, such institutions do (or should) exist, though I must admit, amidst the cacophony of voices and situations competing for our attention, these institutions seem to have lost their way. Such institutions—the physical manifestation of the Church, in its many forms—was built to represent a new way of being—a new way of living—a new way of loving. As members of Christ‘s Church, we are called to be a people of this different way. We are called to be people of the vine, as Christ himself described to us in the writings of John 15:
1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.
4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
Jesus is calling us to holiness—to maintain a spiritual connection with him—and through this connection, a living connection signified by a living vine, he is calling us to a spiritual connection with each other. I would note that in any vine, no two branches are identical, the degree of development may be different, the sizes and positioning may be different, and the health and growth may be different, but as long as the branches are connected through the stem to the root, it remains one vine nourished at the source.
Jesus goes on to say,
6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
This is an exciting promise—if we remain connected to the source of life—Jesus Christ, he will provide for all of our spiritual needs, which I believe includes the need for belonging, the need for unity, the need for family. I would further note here that unity does not mean uniformity. As every branch of the vine is different, so can we all continue to be different—different congregations, different denominations, different contextualized expressions of the vine in different nations—but through it all, connected at the root to the power source that is Christ.
I don’t want to minimize the reality of the difficulties we face in our nations or the reality of significant sinfulness that continues to reign in our world. Jesus also recognizes this in John 15 when he says,
6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire, and burned.
This is the judgment of Christ for those who intentionally walk away from the vine. May it not be so for us. May we, as Christians, in spite of our different perspectives, different experiences, different hurts, different histories, may we continue to look to Christ as our source of life, and through him, may we see each other as fellow branches of the same vine, nourished by the same source. And may we leave the pruning up to the master gardener who is our head.
9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.”
We have much work to do, and before we do that work, may we simply – be – resting in the knowledge that we are one with the creator of the universe. May we rest in the knowledge that the heavy lifting is up to Christ, and as we lean into his vision, his being, his vine, may we be found faithful as co-laborers doing the work that leads to a new vision of unity for Christ’s church—a unity that will be seen by those not of the vine as an example of what could be—an example for our nations to follow.
—Colin P Watson Sr.
Christian Reformed Church in North America
CANAAC Steering Committee Deputy Convenor
Q: What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A: That I am not my own, but belong--body and soul, in life and in death-- to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.
--Heidelberg Catechism, Question and Answer 1
Serving as a nondenominational hospice chaplain, I spend my days providing spiritual support and companionship to people who have received a terminal diagnosis as well as their loved ones. I meet people from a wide range of religious beliefs and spiritual orientations, from extremely devout to completely non-religious. Regardless of particular faith journeys, most of the time what people seek as they approach the end of life is reassurance that they are loved, that they matter, and that they are not alone.
These are completely natural requests and vital messages to receive, particularly as people are faced with mortality and the opportunity to more closely reflect on what life means. As a clergy person invited into sacred times of transition, it’s an honor and privilege to bless human souls with those messages that always bear repeating: You are loved. You matter. You are not alone.
And while my work calls me into spaces with an acute awareness of death, hospice is far from the only window into the truth that life on this planet is temporary. At the time of this writing, the world is in its 14th month of a global pandemic and 3,352,109 people have died from COVID-19. Racially or ethnically-motivated violence and murder is increasingly publicized, oftentimes sanctioned and perpetuated by the systems and powers expected to serve and protect human life. People who express their gender or sexuality in ways that are misunderstood within a binary framework are disproportionately targeted and killed. Rampant consumption and pollution are destroying plant and animal lives at exponential rates.
The circumstance of death can be horrific, yet death itself is not the enemy. “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:8 NRSV).
Therefore the key is in knowing, whether in life or in death, that we are loved, we matter, and we are not alone. Can you imagine the flourishing that could be possible if all creation truly believed and experienced these messages to be true every moment of every day?
The Protestant Reformation affirmed the immediacy of God’s presence and eliminated barriers for laypersons to know and experience God through increasingly accessible worship and Scripture. Yet worship and Scripture are not our only access points for God. In my denomination, we like to say that “God is still speaking.” Within this claim is the affirmation that God certainly speaks through Scripture, yet this was neither the beginning nor the ending of God’s revelation of truth and love to humankind. The Church’s calling, then, is always to cultivate imagination and attentiveness to the myriad ways God reaches out to let us know that we matter, that we are loved, that we are not alone.
Can you notice God’s love for you in a dandelion, a vaccine, or a drink of clean water? Can you feel God showing you your worth through a loving relationship in your life, the strength of your emotions, or a piece of music? Can you sense that you are not alone when you feel the earth beneath you, when a stranger nods or smiles at you and says “have a nice day,” or when another breath of oxygen enters your body, yet one more moment?
No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, as you consider your own mortality—however near or far it may be in the future—may you find comfort in knowing that you fully belong to God.
—Rev. Bethany Joy Winn
United Church of Christ, USA
Bethany is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ (UCC). She currently serves as chaplain with Spectrum Health Hospice and Palliative Care in Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA. In 2017 she was a member of the UCC delegation to the General Council of the WCRC (World Communion of Reformed Churches) in Liepzig, Germany