We celebrate birthdays in our church. It might not be the most solemn part of a Sunday service, but it’s a sacred one. It’s not a big thing, I guess, just singing a song. But I think it’s important to acknowledge the life events of our community, especially right now when we’re not able to be together. So there’s a song. It’s not Happy Birthday, it a little different. It goes like this "Happy birthday to you, oh happy birthday to you, may you feel Jesus near everyday of the year! Happy birthday to you, oh happy birthday to you, have the best year you've ever had!" (You’ll have to join us some Sunday to hear the tune.)
I love that song because it reminds me that birthdays aren't just the anniversary of a date in the past or the opportunity to cross off another year, it's the beginning of a new one. A new year that has potential in it, potential of feeling “Jesus near everyday of the year" and the promise of having “the best year you’ve ever had.” Every new year can be better.
As it happens, the end of May and beginning of June bring two dates that are important “birthdays” for our church. This year, Pentecost is May 23 and the founding of the United Church of Canada is June 10. Pentecost moves around a bit because it’s always fifty days after Easter (that’s what Pentecost means, “fifty”), but the inauguration of the United Church of Canada is an anniversary, it’s always the same day. Every once in awhile (like 2019) they land on the same day.
So, I’ve called the United Church’s birthday a “founding,” an “inauguration” and an “anniversary,” but, for all the names we use, I think it’s definitely a birthday. Something was birthed that day, something new and unique, something that has grown and changed, lived and aged and lived some more. Just like Pentecost. In the Bible, the Book of Acts recounts how, fifty days after Easter, the disciples were in Jerusalem where there was an annual festival happening. While there, "all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:4). It was quite the scene: the Holy Spirit moved among them like a mighty rushing wind, with tongues of fire. Suddenly the disciples were able to communicate in all the home languages of those who were around them, telling them about Jesus. Empowered by the Spirit, they took that message out into the world, beginning to create communities of around the the teaching of Jesus.
Of course, not everyone embraced them. Not everyone believed and not everyone followed. Some that did, fell away or gave up. Some of the earliest communities of The People of the Way grew, some floundered and struggled a bit, some went a different way.
But they went forward. There’s a difference between reminiscing, holding on to the past as if trying to live there, and remembering, bringing the experience and learning of the past into living this moment and the days ahead. They knew Jesus was with them, they could even feel the Spirit that Jesus had promised would be with them. They knew the way wasn’t just forward, it was out. Out into the world to live love, just as Jesus did. This wasn’t just about making a “church,” but a world that sought to bring heaven here, not worry about how to get there.
I wasn’t at the birth of the United Church of Canada, but I bet the Holy Spirit was, just like in the story of Pentecost. That wind and fire of creativity and life is in all of us. How’s the Spirit moving you into the days ahead?