When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. – Acts 2:1-4 (NRSV)
While in Paris, we visited Notre Dame cathedral. Usually when I visit churches, they are empty except for visitors. On this day, however, the church was in full worship. Even though mass was in progress, Notre Dame was still full of visitors taking pictures. Although some people seated for worship were all the way back to the door and used video monitors to see what the priest was doing, we were able to walk right up to the side of where he was. While the service was beautiful, and we were there just as the Eucharist was being celebrated, I couldn’t think but how distracting it must be to have all these people walking around taking pictures while they were trying to worship.
A week later, we were in Westminster Abbey in London. I felt fortunate to be at the chapel just as a noon-day service was beginning. The chapel was out in the open, so people were walking around and talking (just as it was at Notre Dame, but without the photography). This wasn’t distracting except that it made it difficult to hear the priest at times.
It was odd to be sitting over a grave marker and to have the tombs of Isaac Newton and James Stanhope directly behind the Eucharist table.. What distracted me most, though, was the lady behind me talking throughout the service. I couldn’t figure out why she bothered to sit there if she was going to talk.
Then I realized she was translating for the person next to her. How quick I was to assume the worst of someone! We were in France both Sundays on the trip, and I did not look for a church because it would have been in French and I wouldn’t have understood. It was meaningful for me to be at Westminster for a communion service – and at least that meaningful for the person behind me receiving the translation.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” – Acts 2:5-11 (NRSV)
At Salisbury Cathedral there had been an amazing Pentecost sculpture. Here, the altar cloth was also a Pentecost theme. The readings for the day were for the feast of John the Baptist – an evangelist.
Suddenly this all came together with the Eucharist in this historic church: someone was hearing the Gospel in a language they could understand! And just like math is a universal language, so too, is the Eucharist. Regardless of language, age, or denomination, we all hold the Eucharist in common.
The Eucharist is the Gospel in language we can all understand.
One other blessing during this service was the invitation to receive the Eucharist if it was your practice to do so in your own church. The openness of the space and the translation of another language was a manifestation of the openness of the table.
Thank you, Holy Spirit, for binding us all together in this mystery of faith. Amen.