An archbishop in the Coptic Orthodox Church, reflecting on the different experiences of eastern and western churches, once told a group of visiting American church people that "you [in the West] have reaped the fruits of the Pentecost, while we [in the Middle East] have experienced the blessings of the cross."
The dichotomy between the growth and prosperity of the Church in the West and the suffering of the Church in the East (and in the South) may not be so complete as this quote suggests. But such insights tell us something important about the Pentecost we await, about the outpouring of the Spirit that happened in that raucous meeting in Jerusalem. The Pentecost surely had to do with the birth and growth of the church, as our companion in the faith suggested, but it also has to do with being able to speak each other's language, with the sharing of culture and experiences, a sharing that can only deepen our understanding of the faith and our love of God.
The common language of the Pentecost, what made those disparate people understand each other, was the Easter experience—the long journey through Lent, facing the temptations that we all face, enduring the betrayal and agony of the cross, experiencing the inexplicable and the inexhaustible love of God that brings new life out of the ruins of our lives. The blessings of the Cross; the language of the Pentecost.
Our own particular experience with mission began with the somewhat arrogant assumption that we had a story, an exclusive story, to tell to the nations. But along the way we have discovered that, through the outpouring of the Spirit, we could listen with fresh ears to the stories of those who are our companions in the faith. And their language is a language that we can understand if we are open to the Spirit. It speaks of faithfulness through suffering, of redemption, of new life for those whose lives now seem hopelessly empty or futile.
It is in the nature of the church calendar that we spend a lot of our time in hopeful expectation: we await the birth of the Christ child during Advent; we await the climactic events of Holy Week through the long journey of Lent, and now, we await the birth of the Church, God's gift. May it be a church that speaks the universal language of Easter even as it speaks the particular languages of God's wonderful diversity. May it be a Church that lives through mission.
Thanks be to God for the blessings of the Cross and the gift of the Pentecost.
Dale L. Bishop is Executive Minister-Elect of Wider Church Ministries. The five Collegium officers assume their new duties on July 1, 2000.