(Veni Sancte Spiritus, probably composed in the thirteenth century, is a sequence prescribed in the Roman Liturgy for the Masses of Pentecost.)
Back in June at the beginning of Pentecost, we began publishing “Offerings From Exile” as a way for St. John’s community to be in contact with one another while we were away from the building and its normal activities. In the nearly six months since that time, we have been privileged to share essays, photography, poetry, artwork, quilting, and theological reflection, as we keep expressing ways in which we are moved by the Spirit, and which help us remain knit together as the body of Christ, even as we are separated from our church building and one another. It has been a rich blessing to be part of such expressions each week throughout these six months.
Now, as we end the church season of Pentecost and approach the holy and mysterious season of Advent, we bring the “Offerings” to a close, not to leave the Pentecost Spirit behind, for she is ours to call upon with those precious words, “Veni Sancte Spiritus, Come Holy Spirit,” but rather to turn our eyes eastward, to await the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ into our midst once again.
Christ Jesus is with us, has never left us, and yet we await his coming again. Such a paradox! He who is always here is, at the same time, always arriving. Advent is a time in which we pause, hope, and wait expectantly.
And now I hear a small voice saying, “Pause? Wait? Hope? But that’s what we’ve been doing for the last eight months!” True enough. And it appears as if we will be doing so for a good while longer, until the pandemic that threatens our lives is brought under control. But the waiting we are called to do in Advent is of a different nature, and Advent 2020 may be the most amazing season of all, because the longing that is our heart’s cry may never have been as poignant or urgent as it is now. For my own part, I enter this Advent with a heart more aching for Christ’s coming than has ever been the case.
In the spirit which I believe is most appropriate for the coming seasons of Advent and Christmas, let me offer words written by Loretta Ross-Gotta, a Presbyterian minister writing on the subject.
“Imagine a Christmas service where the worshipers come in their holiday finery to find a sanctuary empty of glittering decorations, silent of holiday carols. What if on Christmas Eve people came and sat in the dim pews, and someone stood and said, ‘Something happened here while we were all out at the malls, while we were all baking cookies and fretting about whether we brought our brother-in-law the right gift: Christ was born. God is here.’ We wouldn’t need the glorious choruses … or the tree strung with lights. All that would seem gaudy and shallow in comparison to the sanctity of that still sanctuary. And we, hushed and awed by something greater and kinder and wiser than we, would kneel of one accord in the stillness, held in the womb of the Mother of God.”
I offer these words to suggest that this Advent and the Christmas season that follows offer us an opportunity to observe them in a deep and meaningful way never previously afforded us: to rest in a holy and prayerful silence, unencumbered by haste, open to the voice and voices of the Holy Three, who are always with us and always about to arrive.
O come, O come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear!
God is with us and will come again. Trust, believe, and embrace that!