Opinion & Analysis: Message of the presidents of the World Council of Churches at Pentecost 2015

(Image: WCC)

Dear brothers and sisters in faith,

In this season, we recall these words from Hebrew Scripture:

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: May those who love you be secure. May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels. For the sake of my family and friends, I will say, Peace be within you. (Psalm 122:6-8).

And, from the New Testament:
And when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. (Acts of the Apostles 2:1)

"God of life, lead us to justice and peace" was the theme of the 10th Assembly of the World Council of Churches (Busan, Republic of Korea, 30 October–8 November 2013). At that gathering WCC called us to join all people of good will on a pilgrimage of justice and peace.

The world can offer peace only in empty words, saying "Peace, peace, when there is no peace" (Jeremiah 6:14). Without peace, can there be justice? Without justice, can there be peace? Too often, we pursue justice at the expense of peace, and peace at the expense of justice. Shalom (שָׁלוֹם) is more than just an expression for simply greeting each other. When we say to each other: "The peace of the Lord be with you," we are indeed wishing each other contentment, completeness, wholeness, wellbeing, health, welfare, safety, soundness, tranquillity, prosperity, perfectness, fullness, rest, harmony as well as the absence of agitation or discord. Our peace, our Shalom had been fully paid by our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross on Calvary.

This frees all who believe in Christ to speak out when peace is pursued but justice is neglected, or the search for justice gets caught in a spiral of violence. As the ancient words of the Psalmist bear witness still, the status of Jerusalem continues to be the most difficult issue for negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. As long as the occupation continues, Jerusalem is not at peace. The holy places for Jews, Christians and Muslims are still far from becoming signs of peace and reconciliation among the different communities.

The Acts of the Apostles tell us: "And when the day of Pentecost [ten hemeran tes pentekostes] had come, they were all together in one place" (Acts 2:1). The day called "Pentecost" is named after the Greek word pentekostos, which means "fiftieth" and refers to the "Feast of Weeks" fifty days after Passover and Easter. The first followers of Jesus were all in one place ... Not only the apostles, but the hundred and twenty disciples, men and women, were together praying and waiting upon the risen Christ. The Greek word signifies that they were all of one mind. Then, suddenly a mighty sound (Greek, pneuma) filled the house. The wind was a physical manifestation of the presence of the Holy Spirit. All those present were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke in the languages of all the different countries from which devoted Jews had come up in larger numbers to attend Pentecost.

The Holy Spirit is given by God as a gift of faith to all those who believe in the risen Christ. Christians through all the ages continue to participate in the internal transformation that Pentecost symbolizes. On Pentecost morning, Peter stepped out of the upper room where the disciples had been gathered to declare publicly that God had raised this Jesus to life and that they were all witnesses to it. Christ has risen! He has risen indeed! Our saviour conquered sin and death and the grave. Peter proclaimed the saving gift of Jesus Christ to the world (Acts 2:1-41). He went into the public arena to proclaim that Jesus is indeed the Prince of Peace (Sar shalom).

For two millennia, Christians have been celebrating the "church's birthday" - as the feast of Pentecost is often called - and have been engaged in the public sphere, proclaiming Jesus as Lord of all. We are conscious of the fact that this, in the past, often was combined with a spirit of superiority without respect for the dignity of all human beings regardless of religion, race, gender or ethnic belonging. This kind of arrogance was not of the Holy Spirit manifested at Pentecost, the Spirit of Christ who overcomes the dividing walls of enmity and affirms the rich diversity of all life. The Spirit of Pentecost calls us on the way of justice and peace as disciples following Christ and joining fellow pilgrims.

And so we trust:

The triune God will grant us peace in the prospect of death and the future world; peace amidst the storms and tempests of life. Beloved, pray for peace, prosperity and the blessing of God not only for Israel, not only for Jerusalem, but for the peace of the whole world; not only for your church, denomination, neighbourhood, or country, but pray for peace in Israel Palestine, for peace in the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Libya, Mali, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan, Afghanistan, Burma-Myanmar, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand, Ukraine, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Colombia and Mexico. More than 10,000 people are being killed annually in on-going armed conflicts across the globe. Pray for the peace of our world. Peace is a matter of life and death for those people who are yearning for it. Pray for the peace of the world. The Prince of Peace sends us forth to testify to what we have seen and heard in the upper room, to become in the public sphere what we heard and experienced during Pentecost, to be a blessing in and for God's beloved and broken world.

May the blessing of Almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be with us all.

The presidents of the World Council of Churches

• Rev. Dr Mary-Anne Plaatjies van Huffel, Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa
• Rev. Prof. Dr Sang Chang, Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea
• Archbishop Anders Wejryd, Church of Sweden
• Rev. Gloria Nohemy Ulloa Alvarado, Presbyterian Church in Colombia
• Bishop Mark MacDonald, Anglican Church of Canada
• Rev. Dr Mele'ana Puloka, Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga
• H.B. John X, Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch and All the East
• H.H. Karekin II, the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians

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