Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Pentecost metaphors?

I've never blogged on here about a topic that leads up to a Sunday or liturgical festival, especially before I preach about it. Typically I wait until the given day of my subject to post anything. Currently, however, I have several images and metaphors for Pentecost swirling around in my head, and it is highly possible that I will deal with one of them in my sermon this coming Sunday. In my former congregation, I found that the tight schedule of preaching every Sunday did not always allow me to weed through a surfeit of sermon illustrations. Now I tend to go overboard.

In any case, I recently finished Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel, The Road, which relates the story of a father and son making their way in a very bleak, post-apocalyptic world. There is not much to the plot, and almost nothing "happens," per se. The burned-over planet they inhabit is so unfriendly, so harsh and devoid of meaning, that the relationship between the father and son provides the only source of hope. One increasingly gets the sense that the world around them will provide no comfort, no rest, no nourishment; they are each others' reason for existence.

I do not know if the author intended to weave trinitarian language into this story, but I found it a compelling coincidence that the father and son are so bound together by love in the midst of a world that could tear them apart. Their love is what keeps them going, even when it becomes more and more apparent that they are truly alone. They are the only self-described "good guys" in a dying world where sin has not only taken root but allowed to grow to full fruition. Even more interesting is the father's description for what delineates them as the "good guys": they are, he reiterates to his frightened boy, the "keepers of the flame." Father, Son, bound by love described as a flame...biblical allusion for the Trinity? It is especially intriguing when one thinks of the ways in which the Trinity brings life--the only real life--to the world through its intense inner bonds of love and fidelity. Can one read The Road in this way, as a metaphor for the mission of the church, that the only true source of joy and hope for any of us is the love the father and son have for each other? Are we, as those caught in the throes of this love, keepers of the flame, on a mission to bring life to the world? Is Cormac McCarthy unwittingly "saying things another way"?

I don't know how these thoughts will bounce around further, or if I'll ever be bold enough to mention this anywhere else. The book's depictions of the world gave me nightmares when I began reading it, and I'm not sure I would recommend this book to everyone. If I mention it in a sermon it might provoke that. Then again, maybe we should have nightmares, on occasion, about the harshness of our own sin...nightmares that then stir us to love and pursue the good that God has laid before us.


Beth said...

What is Pentecost? I suppose as a Christian I should know this, but I don't. It makes me think of the question that was recently asked of me. I was in the hospital ER with my young son last Thursday. (The severe pollen and a case of strep throat caused him to have trouble breathing. Everything is resolved and he is ok now) As I was "registering" him, the clerk asked, among other questions, "religion?" I responded "Christian". He then asked "What kind of Christian?"...what kind of Christian? I didn't understand the question. I answered "I'm just a Christian." I glanced at the screen and saw him type in "Prostestant". Then I realized he was refering to my denomination. And I have been thinking about that ever since. Why do we have denominations? Is this why I do not know what Pentecost is? Is the body of Christ one? Jesus prayed for us to be one, why are we not one? What would it mean for us to be one?

Phillip said...

Very good questions, Beth. First, I hope your son is still doing well. I'm struggling with strep right now and it's no fun.

As far as Pentecost is concerned...look at Acts, chapter 2. Pentecost is the festival where Jesus' followers received the Holy Spirit. It occurs 50 days after Easter and is considered the birthday of the Church.

I don't think it's necessary to know what Pentecost is to be a Christian...but if one is a Christian then they've certainly felt the effects of Pentecost!

Mike said...

You hit the nail on the head. I think the book is exactly about the Trinity and the spirit of the fire that is God's love. As I read the book I thought the Father and Son carried the fire and Satan's minions scoured the earth in sin trying to devour everything in it's path through their canibalism.