Sunday, May 15, 2016

Pentecost, Christ Church, and the Knights of the Round Table.

Today Christ Church assembles for our 205th Annual Meeting, as has been our custom on the third week of May. This year, however, this important event in the life of our local parish also happens to overlap with an important event in the life of the wider Church, the Feast of Pentecost, Whitsunday, or what has sometimes been called the “birthday” of the Church.

There is precedent in history and legend for calling an annual meeting on the Day of Pentecost. No less famous or momentous a figure than King Arthur himself ordained that on this, the Day of Pentecost, all the Knights of the Round Table should assemble together to give reports of their heroic quests and renew their common oath, their code of chivalry, which bound them together in covenant.  Why, of all the major feasts of the Church, did Arthur choose Pentecost for his annual meeting? The historical and religious significance of the day provided a profound resonance with the aims of Arthur and his court. 

First, in the Old Testament the Feast of Pentecost commemorated the giving of the Law to Moses on Sinai, the day that God gave the Ten Commandments. This was the anniversary of the solemn covenant God made with his people. For Arthur, the Day of Pentecost seemed the most appropriate occasion for him to make covenant with his Knights and initiate them into his court by oath. The code of conduct he handed on to them was called the Pentecostal Oath.  In a similar way in which God’s law was meant to set Israel aside as a peculiar people consecrated for righteousness, Arthur’s oath was meant to hold his Knights to a higher standard.

The code of Chivalry associated with Arthur became especially important in trying to restrain the behavior of knights during the Crusades. Chivalry prescribes gentlemanly behavior, courteousness, and decency especially to the weaker members of society.
A Knight should not behave like a pagan or heathen, raping and pillaging, but as a Christian defending the powerless. To this day soldiers and police are still bound by a code of honor. For Christians, the Ten Commandments stand as a basic moral code to guide our relationship to God and to our neighbor.

Secondly, in the New Testament the Feast of Pentecost is the day in which the Holy Spirit is poured out in power on the Church and they are equipped to accomplish the Great Commission that Jesus gave to them to preach the Gospel to all nations.  The Holy Spirit is the Comforter; the Advocate that Jesus promised would come to his disciples after his Ascension. Through the Spirit Jesus’ friends experience his continued presence with them to lead and guide them. Through the ministry of the Holy Spirit new generations come to know Christ and have a saving relationship with him.

Jesus instructed his disciples to go to Jerusalem and to wait until they were clothed with power. The Holy Spirit is that promised power. A professor of mine, who worked as a church consultant, once relayed an encounter he had with a board of Church leaders. He was trying to challenge them to be bolder and said, “I feel as if 97% percent of what you do can be done completely without the Holy Spirit.” There was a period of silence in which the group considered what was said. Finally someone piped up, “Can you show us how to cover that extra three percent?”

Brothers and Sisters, this is not what God intended! We should step out in faith relying 100% on the Holy Spirit. He is the animating force that propels the Church forward in mission. Without the Holy Spirit the Church would be like a car without an engine. All it would be able to do is sit around and rust.

The outpouring of the Spirit for mission on Pentecost was another part of the symbolic significance of the day for King Arthur. His Chronicler Thomas Malory tells us, 

“So ever the king had a custom that at the feast of Pentecost in especial, afore other feasts in the year, he would not go that day to meat until he had heard or seen of a great marvel. And for that custom all manner of strange adventures came before Arthur as at that feast before all other feasts.”

Arthur and his Knights lived in expectation of great things. They were not satisfied to be ordinary. They looked and waited for God to provide them with opportunities for new and daring quests. For the Church as well, Pentecost was the Day in which God showed them great wonders. The Book of Acts tells us about the great rush of violent wind that filled the house in which they were gathered, the divided tongues, as of fire that appeared over their heads, and how the Holy Spirit enabled them to speak in new languages that were strange to them so that every person gathered in Jerusalem for the great feast heard the gospel proclaimed in his own native tongue. The newly energized Church was launched out on the greatest quest of all, to evangelize the world.

So today on the annual meeting of Christ Church, and the Day of Pentecost, we assemble here to take stock of how our mission is progressing. Despite the various challenges that come with a time of transition, we remain strong. Our congregational life remains vital and we continue to be a parish that faithfully proclaims the gospel and that reaches out to others with the love of Christ. Please take the time to read your annual meeting packet to get a fuller picture of how our various ministries are progressing. They contain the reports of our own "knights" and the daring quests in the service of our Lord.

We gather today also to celebrate the covenant and fellowship we enjoy together through the Holy Spirit. We ask him to write anew God’s Law on our hearts. As King Arthur and his Knights renewed their own oaths this day, let us also renew ours. Brothers and sisters remember your baptismal covenant, to persevere in resisting evil, to continue in repentance, to proclaim the Gospel in word and deed, to serve Christ in all persons, to strive for justice and peace, and to respect the dignity of every human being. May we seek to do all these things, not in our own power, but in the power of the Holy Spirit. 


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