“The Quotidian Mystery”
The Reverend Tasha Blackburn
June 4, 2017
Sometimes reading about Pentecost can make us feel inadequate. We read that the first Christians were overcome by wind and fire and we wonder where our divine wonders are. We read that the apostles were so powerfully touched that they could speak languages from all around the globe and we wonder where our miracles are. But the day of Pentecost is not about over-the-top miracles and wonders. Let’s not make this a superhero adventure film. The people gathered in that room were not glamorous or powerful and the day they sat and waited together was nothing out of the ordinary. The day of Pentecost was one of several holidays in Judaism. It originally celebrated the spring harvest and it was named Pentecost because it fell 50 days after the bigger and more important holiday of Passover. This setting is of ordinary folks getting together for a secondary holiday. There was very little that set it apart. It was simply quotidian.
Quotidian. Do you know that fancy word? It just means “every day”. It means “ordinary”. It means “routine.” And that is what the apostles were that day. They were ordinary and going about their every day lives. Quotidian.
Most of our lives fit that description. We sleep, we wake, we eat, we work, we laugh, we plan, we run late, we make lists, we sleep and then we do it all again. Like the apostles on that day in Jerusalem, most of life is routine. And there is nothing that feels more routine than attending a child’s school show. I found myself in just this situation a couple of months ago.
The show was once called the “Euper Lane Elementary School Talent Show” but the organizers became more honest and took out the word “talent” and called it a “Variety Show” instead. I was sitting on a hard seat in the school cafeteria wondering how long this was all going to last. The M.C.’s announced there were more acts than they’d ever had before! The evening’s outlook seemed grim. I settled in for quotidian-ness of the highest degree. After a couple of acts, I scanned the program to see what was coming up next. “Walk It Out” was the title of the next offering. I had no idea what it would involve but I hoped it would move along since there were still 26 acts to follow.
And then it happened. Some music blared, the kind with a heavy drumbeat behind it. And a boy, he appeared to be in about the 4th grade, began walking across the stage. He was by himself and he was struggling. Tentatively at first, and then with more boldness, he took a step and then several, all in an effort to get across the stage. I glanced at the program again and read there: “He has been relearning how to walk.” As the music blared, and the drum kept its beat, and the boy took each step, the whole room had read what I’d read: “He has been relearning how to walk” and, together, the room held its breath. In that moment, the day of Pentecost had come.
You know how I know that? You know how I know the Holy Spirit was blowing through that room and fire was alighting on that boy? I know because we all saw in him what had been his greatest weakness become his greatest strength. That is the power of Pentecost. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. Do not let fire and wind get in the way of your understanding. When the day of Pentecost came , the Spirit took those apostles’ greatest deficiencies and it used them to make them strong. The last time we heard Peter’s voice in the Gospel of Luke, he was lying through his teeth while a rooster crowed and, when the day of Pentecost comes, he is preaching the good news of Jesus. When Jesus told his friends that he would send them power, they were on their way into hiding, hiding from the authorities because they were afraid. When the day of Pentecost comes, they are tumbling out of the house and running into crowds of strangers. When the Holy Spirit arrives, something is broken open and God makes weaknesses into strengths.
The only difference between the ordinary evening I spent in the school cafeteria and the ordinary morning the apostles spent in the house was that I was not expecting the Spirit to show up…and they were. Jesus promised them that the Spirit would come. In Chapter 1 he told them to stay in Jerusalem and wait for it together. So they waited. On that ordinary day. And they gathered in one place so they could be together. On that ordinary day. And they did that, not because they were so special or because the occasion was so special, but because they had heard his promise. The promise we’ve been given, too.
And it makes me wonder: what weak place in you will the Holy Spirit use as a strength for the glory of God? What weak place in our church will the Spirit use as a strength? Because that is exactly what the Spirit will do. It is how we know that it has blown through. That is the nature of the Quotidian Mystery. The “mystery” is that God only shows up during the ordinary days, and to the ordinary and everyday people he finds. That is the message of Jesus in the world: that, in him, God became flesh; that divinity took on ordinariness within itself. Quotidian moments and quotidian people are the only kind he knows.
That evening in the cafeteria, when the whole crowd was holding its breath, I knew the day of Pentecost had come, not just because of the strength the boy showed in the spot of his weakness but because of the joy in that room. In Luke, in John, in Acts, we hear over and over again that, when the Holy Spirit arrives, so does joy: “my heart is glad,” is one way they describe it. And “my tongue rejoices…I am filled with gladness.” More than speaking foreign languages, more than singed hair, joy is the best outward sign we have that the Spirit has come upon us.
And there was joy in that room. There was utter joy in the boy’s face and his joy infected the crowd, raising them to their feet as they shouted and whistled and clapped. Once the boy made it to the center of the stage—it took him most of the blaring song to get there—but once he made it, he turned his body toward us and raised his arms above his head. In that moment, we all could finally see him fully and we saw the joy: in his face, in his body, and in his shirt which read, in bold letters, “Best. Day. Ever.”
When the day of Pentecost comes it is not about fire or wind. It is about God’s ability to make new creations out of our weak stuff. Just as the divine wind moved over the waters of chaos at the first creation, it moves over our chaos and creates something strong. That is what we believe and that is what we trust God can and does do: that the day of Pentecost comes to quotidian people on the most quotidian of days and makes something new and strong out of even the weakest parts of us; out of even the weakest among us. That promise is what we celebrate. I hope you have heard it too, for that promise makes this the Best. Day. Ever. Amen.