“These things I have spoken to you, while I am still with you. 26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. 28 You heard me say to you, ‘I go away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I go to the Father; for the Father is greater than I. 29 And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place, you may believe. 30 I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no power over me; 31 but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go hence. (Revised Standard Version)
Based on the Gospel reading for this coming Sunday (Feast of Pentecost, Fiftieth Day of Zadeeg), the following are suggested themes for sermon topics:
Hokekaloosd «Հոգեգալուստ», translates as “coming of the Holy Spirit.” On this day, the Armenian Church celebrates the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Church on the Day of Pentecost as told in the first two chapters of the Acts of the Apostles. It also marks the 50th and final day of Zadeeg (“Pentecost” translates as “50th Day”). The Feast of Pentecost was originally observed and celebrated on one day until the 12th century when Catholicos St. Nerses Shnorhali arranged the church calendar to extend the observation of the feast for seven days with lectionary readings and hymns dedicated to the Holy Spirit. The season of Pentecost always begins on the seventh Sunday after Zadeeg and ends on the Feast of Transfiguration (Պայծառակերպութիւն), the 14th Sunday after Zadeeg.
The Peace of Christ
Greetings come in various forms, but across cultures, historically until today, it is customary to greet one another in peace. In first-century Palestine, the word peace was used for both a greeting and farewell accompanied by a kiss. A greeting of peace accompanied with a kiss has since become part of the traditional greeting of Christians to each other as a sign of their unity and love in Christ. In the New Testament, St. Paul opens his letters to various churches with a greeting of peace in Christ and sometimes closes them with an instruction to greet each other with a holy kiss: “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” (II Corinthians 13:12) During our liturgical services, the greeting “Peace be to all” is offered many times by the celebrant.
Peace is clearly important in Christian life, even obligatory. One of the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:9) makes it clear that to be called sons of God, we are to be peacemakers. What is peace and what does peace do?
Simply put, peace unites. It brings together that which was divided, heals that which has been broken. Peace is often desired, but not often acquired. In this Gospel narrative, Jesus describes a world his disciples will inhabit after he has gone to be with the Father, a world similar to ours in which sin has infected and distorted the entire created order. There is sorrow, suffering, violence, division, pandemics, and evil deeds. Out of love, Jesus has come to be the Light of the world, but “men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19). But listen to what Jesus promises: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.” What does He mean by a peace that the world cannot offer?
During Badarak, it is the people who bring the gifts of the bread and wine to the holy altar, symbolically offering ourselves to God who offers himself back to us in the form of his Body and Blood, to unite himself with his Body, the Church. But before we share Holy Communion, something very important must take place: the Kiss of Peace. With one voice the congregation sings:
Christ in our midst has been revealed; He Who Is, God, is here seated. The voice of peace has resounded; Holy greeting is commanded. The Church has now become one soul, The kiss is given for a full bond. The enmity has been removed; And love is spread over us all.
Unfortunately, for many the Kiss of Peace has become an awkward exchange of mumbled words, an overly-formalized ritual, perhaps causing some to cringe at its appointed time in the Badarak, especially for visitors. But it is so much more than we perceive it to be. The Kiss of Peace is a visible sign in which we share the promise of unity and the love of Christ, a fulfillment of our Baptism, where we actualize what it is to be the Body of Christ, the Church. Through this ancient liturgical gesture, the whole congregation is bound first with its mystical head, Jesus Christ, and then with one another in one sacred bond of love and forgiveness. The words we repeat, “Kreesdos ee mech mer haydnetsav” carry the core of the Gospel message: “Christ is revealed among us.” The person who brings and is peace, love, unity, and healing is present with us! The peace Jesus promises us, the peace that the world cannot offer, is his presence. That is, Jesus Christ is the Peace we seek!
The spiritual force of wickedness, “the ruler of this world” was dealt a massive blow through the death and resurrection of Christ, but the opposition is still present, tempting even those who follow Jesus Christ. But Jesus has given us a parting gift – the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, the coming of whom we celebrate on the Feast of Pentecost, and the fruit of whom includes peace (Galatians 5:22-23), a healing peace that comes from communion with God, a peace that unites us with him and with one another.
I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)
This is in contrast to the “world peace” about which we often dream. Rather than peace based on our achievement of tolerance or on our terms of what it means to get along and refrain from hurting one another, the peace of Christ gathers us, all of creation to himself. His peace is what knits the Church together as the Body of Christ.
For in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:19-20)
“By the blood of his cross.” His peace gathers his family around the holy table at which Jesus is the center, at which we commune with him and with one another as we share his Body and Blood. And where Christ is there is love, healing of body and soul, forgiveness, and unity; in other words, there is peace. And it is we, the Church, every member of the Body of Christ, who are called to invite the world to experience the peace of Christ, to invite others to table fellowship. This peace removes enmity, settles wars, and pacifies fear.
The task of creating “one soul” in the Church belongs to each of us. Are we, as a parish community, as individual disciples of Christ, agents of the peace of Christ, or agents of division? Do we allow our anxieties, insecurities, and egos to separate us from each other, or do we seek unity in prayer as one family? Do we gather around the holy altar as a family – with the same sins, the same needs, on the same journey toward salvation – sharing a meal as one Body: forgiven, loved, and healed by Jesus Christ?
As St. Paul writes to the Church of Ephesus, he writes to us today:
Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)
The Coming of the Holy Spirit
The story of Pentecost is familiar: Christ had instructed his disciples just before his Ascension:
[Do] not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised…John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:4-5).
On the Feast of Pentecost, as the disciples gathered in the Upper Room where they shared their last meal with Jesus, without warning there was a sound like a strong wind, a gale force. The same Spirit who moved over the waters at the beginning of creation now filled the whole room where they were sitting. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and the Disciples started speaking in a number of different languages!
People from all over the world in Jerusalem witnessed the event. Some mocked, accusing them of being drunk. Others were deeply moved by its profound and miraculous meaning. All of them mesmerized as they heard the wonderful works of God being spoken in their native tongue (Interestingly, both Tertullian and Augustine have interpreted “Judea” in Acts 2:9 as Armenia). The Disciples remembered the promise Jesus made to them, that the Father would send a “Comforter” to guide them into all truth (John 14:26). Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to his Church, and the promise was fulfilled that day. This is why the Armenian Church refers to the Feast of Pentecost as Hokekaloosd meaning “Coming of the Spirit.”
The Apostles suddenly found themselves with the power and opportunity to communicate with people all around the world. And with that power, guided by the Holy Spirit, they would begin their separate missions throughout the world to heal, preach, and spread the news that Christ was raised from the dead, illuminating people with Baptism.
Fountain of life, distributor of grace, O Spirit who descended from above, You distributed your imperishable gifts to the apostles. Hovering over the waters, you made creation. Descending upon the waters of the Font, You gave birth to Sons of God.You always adorn and renew your church.
These are words from the hymn Աղբիւր Կենաց sung on the Feast of Pentecost, exquisite words which articulate the role of the Holy Spirit as the fire who illumines us at Baptism. Indeed, the mystery of Baptism centers on “turning to the Light of the knowledge of God” (դառնամք ի լոյս աստուածգիտութեան), the words which follow the renunciation portion of a baptism. This is why Sts. Thaddeus and Bartholomew are referred to as the “First Illuminators” and why St. Gregory the Enlightener is named as such.
Pentecost was a restoration of the Tower of Babel (see Genesis 11:1-9), a story that begins with a world with one people with one language and ends with a confusion of languages resulting in people being divided and scattered across the earth. At Pentecost, God calls a scattered Israel to be united in him and languages are once again for the purpose of praising God, praising him for coming to us. Rather than humanity striving to reach God by way of our own achievements and accomplishments resulting in confusion and division, on the Day of Pentecost, God has come to us, uniting his people and gathering them to himself and in himself. As St. Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians: “Perfect peace is brought by Christ, who reconciles humanity to God.”
In the Garden of Eden, the communion for which we were created to enjoy was ruptured. Pentecost is a restoration of that lost communion, the Church being the conduit for renewed communion with God. The gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church, bestowed at Baptism, mystically raises us from the corruption of sin and unites us together into God’s family, the Church. Are we living as though we have been sealed with the Holy Spirit? Do we believe it? The divine, healing life of God, his peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7) dwells within each baptized person. As St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans (8:11),
If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit which dwells in you.
And so the Church is called to task. Led by the Holy Spirit, each one of our parish communities, our Diocese, the global Armenian Church is to share the same uniting peace of Christ with the world, to invite others to gather as one Body of Christ, to share the Kiss of Peace, to be in (comm)union with God, to share and be blessed by his love, forgiveness, and healing, to share the good news of Pentecost! One of the many things we can learn from Pentecost is that our faith and the expression of it is neither meant to be personal nor private. Yes, each of us must individually and uniquely experience God, but never in isolation, and even if in physical isolation, we are still connected to the greater whole, the Church, we still always pray, “Our Father…” Rather our faith, the Gospel, is meant to be lived, shared, spoken, and demonstrated in community, in the context of the living and breathing Body of Christ. And so the Holy Spirit enables us to cultivate a “language” of faith, to speak boldly to the world. There is no time to waste and our world is becoming more and more confused and “scattered.” Beginning with ourselves, how will we start sharing that good news today?