It is often said the two highlights of the Christian calendar are Christmas and Easter, that in many ways could be described as ‘bookends’, coming at the beginning and end of the Jesus story.
However, as we all know, it is what came afterwards that is critically important, not only for the life of the church, but for our individual lives as well. Personally, the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, which we now celebrate, is at the core of my understanding of the Christian faith.
Acts 2:5-13 tells how there were devout people from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. Suddenly, they heard a rushing, violent wind, accompanied by an ability to speak in tongues, yet leaving all bewildered and amazed. Despite coming from totally diverse backgrounds and cultures there was the realisation that God was speaking to them as if they were one, bringing dazzling clarity to the life, suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus.
At Pentecost, we hear the declaration from Acts 2:16-21, with its link to Joel 2:28-32, that God “will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh and your sons and daughters shall prophesy and your young men shall see visions and your old men shall dream dreams.”
For me, today’s contemporary Australia is the 21st Century equivalent of those gathered in Jerusalem, from “every nation under heaven”. It is reflected in public sentiment, for regardless of religious, cultural or political affiliation, we can all mime the words of our unofficial anthem: ‘We are one, but we are many; and from all the lands on Earth we come; we’ll share a dream and sing with one voice ‘I am, you are, we are Australian.’
The question remains if this is truly so?
I believe we are at a sobering junction within the life of our nation and also within our Uniting Church. We might sing enthusiastically ‘we are one’, but the reality is, unfortunately, starkly different. Often our First Nations People are too often ignored and overlooked in the sharing of the dream. The 30th Anniversary of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody report highlights Aboriginal people still marginalised, often invisible, unseen, unnoticed, in the much-vaunted claim that Australia is the most successful multicultural nation on earth.
Our first Moderator and fifth Assembly President, the late Sir Ronald Wilson, devoted much of his life to championing human rights, co-authoring with (now) Senator Mick Dodson the 1997 Bringing Them Home report, into the Stolen Generations. He would be urging us to be far more vigilant in changing cultural and racial attitudes, even within the life of our church.
The people of Pentecost realised suddenly that only by being ‘as one’, could God’s healing and reconciling Spirit be released on all people, not just some.
My prayer for our Uniting Church people at this time is, let it be so!
Susy Thomas, Moderator of the Uniting Church WA
Top image: In March, Susy Thomas (Centre), Moderator of the Uniting Church WA, and Rev David Jackson (right), Convenor of the Uniting Church WA Disaster Relief and Community Recovery Working Group, presented a $20 000 donation to Basil Zempilas, Perth Lord Mayor, for the Lord Mayor’s Distress Relief Fund, supporting those recently affected by bushfires in the Perth hills.