Saint Margaret’s Anglican Episcopal Church Budapest, Hungary
Acts 2:1-21 ; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13 ; John 20:19-23 ; Psalm 104:25-35, 37
The great fourteenth-century Italian artist known simply as Duccio is sometimes considered by art historians to be the last of the great medieval painters; or alternatively, as the first artist of the Renaissance, or modern, era. We see a bit of both worlds in this detail on your screen (see below) from his Siena altarpiece of 1308, depicting the Communion of Saints gathering somewhere in the great halls of heaven and awaiting, one supposes, the Last Judgment of Christ. Medieval elements remain in the painting’s somewhat stylized and rigid approach to composition, which still gives the work a feeling of the otherworldly or ethereal.
But for perhaps the first time in the history of western painting, we also see that these figures are real people. They are not stock figures or somehow symbolic representations of virtue or vice. They have their own minds. They have a hint of personality. They look off in different directions. One or two very nearly -- and eerily -- look out at us, as if to say I am one of you, too. Some are clearly men; others, women. One is a bishop, while others are arguably lay people. While they remain the Communion of Saints, they are also individuals. They could be us. Or, I suppose, we could have been them.
I do not know why exactly, but I think of this ancient and beautiful painting every time I look at a ZOOM gallery shot of our Sunday morning
congregation here at Saint Margaret’s; that is, a shot which shows all of us in rows of postage- stamp-size video snapshots. This morning is no exception. Well, okay: The medieval otherworldliness and gold filigree is very nearly missing on ZOOM, I suppose; although as I look out at you I do believe I see a few faint halos here and there. But Duccio could also look at us gathered today for worship and instantly recognise us as his people, too. He would see in us the Communion of Saints.
He would see in us the Church.
For, in some real sense the Church, no matter how you paint it or represent it in electronic particles on a tiny monitor screen, is forever of this world – forever individual and modern – yet at the same time timeless and an integral part of the celestial body of saints. As we gather with Duccio’s people this
morning, we also come together on this Pentecost Sunday with the disciples assembled centuries ago in Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit still comes upon us, as it did upon them. As one theologian explains it, in the Incarnation “Christ is clothed with our flesh;” and at Pentecost we are “invested with his Spirit.”
There might not be Parthians, Medes, and Elamites among our numbers today, although you never know what genetic DNA ancestry testing might turn up. But we are nevertheless people of many cultures and languages – perhaps particularly here in Central Europe and beyond. Brits, Canadians, Hungarians, Americans, Kenyans, Ghanaians, among others. But we all also understand, each of us in our own way, the one important truth of the Gospel message: That everyone, as Peter declares in our reading today; that everyone who “calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
“There is power in love,” writes one Christian sage. There is power in love. “Do not underestimate it,” he urges. And, it is the power of God’s love by which we are saved in “the name of the Lord.” It is the power of God’s love with which we are invested at Pentecost.
The challenge of the Church in every age is not to harness the power of God’s love; but rather to unleash it. To make it free. To set it in motion. To make of it the movement of the Spirit. The Church after all is still to be found in the spiritual “rush of a violent wind,” as heard at that first Pentecost. The Church is still experienced in “tongues, as of fire” among us still today right here in our ZOOM chapel. That is the power of God’s love. We dare not underestimate its reach and force.
Never has our old world been in greater need of the power of love -- of God’s love -- than it is today, as the people of the world, and the Communion of Saints, confront the power of nature manifested in a virus too small to see except with the very strongest of microscopes. And, as we come to terms with the power of hatred and racism around the world displayed in acts of injustice, destruction, and violence.
But as has also been said, “
There's power in love to help and heal when nothing else can.”
This is what we as Church are called to be and to do: Love, pure and simple; made manifest in
our day as it was centuries ago at the first Pentecost and later in Duccio’s day and as it surely
shall be made manifest for centuries to come and forever. The world and its ills can only ever
be healed if we come forward as healers. Only we can bring peace and justice to lands and
peoples beset by inequality and corruption. Only we can be Church.
I have gotten a few phone calls and email and Facebook messages over the past two months
or so of quarantine asking essentially if our church is still closed. I have been polite in
response, of course, and have explained the situation and invited the caller or correspondent
to join us on ZOOM and become part of our gallery of saints. Well, I did not put it exactly like
that, but you get the idea.
But what I really wanted to tell them and the world is that the Church never closes. We are a
twenty-four/seven operation; a non-stop shop offering life’s essentials; salvation and the
power of God’s love. So, my friends, there should be no locks on the doors of our hearts, as
there were on the doors of the house where the disciples met that first Pentecost for fear of
what others might think or do. The Church never closes any more than the love of God
somehow shuts down and dims the lights at the close of God’s busy business day. The Power
of God’s love in our hearts and minds knows no bounds; knows no time or space.
The Church is here to stay.
The Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedűs