Sunday, May 17, 2020

Luke and Acts: Something Promised This Way Comes

In the liturgical calendar, May 31, 2020 is both the celebration of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-21) and the day marking the Visitation of Mary and Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-57). It's an interesting mix. Both are important in their own right, but it's an interesting idea to consider them together. What do these days have to say to one another?

One episode is at the beginning of Jesus' story; the other is at the end. Jesus is present in both stories in a spiritual sense but not walking the earth in either story. Mary, the mother of Jesus may be present in both stories. Though Acts doesn't mention her presence, artists often depict Mary in the midst of  the disciples on the day of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit is also physically present at Pentecost and was also active in the early stories in Luke's gospel.

What both episodes recognize is a promise fulfilled. At the Visitation, Elizabeth rejoices that that "the mother of my Lord" comes to her. Elizabeth recognizes that the promise of the Messiah has come. She also recognizes Mary's faithfulness in believing the promise: And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord. Pentecost is the fulfillment of the promised Spirit.
Jyoti Sahi. The Pentecost.1983.
Jyoti Sahi draws the stories together in the painting above. In the middle of the flame-like colors of Pentecost and under a descending dove is Mary, the mother of Jesus. Mary appears to be seated. Where you would expect to see her midsection clothed in white, however, is a mandorla. Mandorla is the Italian word for almond, which describes that seed-like shape. The shape is also called a vesica piscis. In images of the Visitation, Mary's belly is often defined by a shape that is at least reminiscent of the mandorla. Within that shape is Jesus (and in the example linked here, check John's reaction). The mandorla in the painting reminds us that Mary is the mother of Jesus the Christ. Because it is an image of Pentecost, we remember that the church is called to be the body of Christ in the world. 

Pentecost is the seed of the church. The promised power has come. It's not the first of God's promises that have been fulfilled. One more time, the fulfilled promise of God means life and growth. We should all be leaping for joy.  

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