Even if their congregation doesn’t do footwashing on the Thursday before Easter, the average Episcopalian is at the very least familiar with the themes of Maundy Thursday. If you’ve read this blog for long enough, you’ve learned that the word Maundy comes from the Latin word mandatum, from which we get the word “mandate.” The mandate of Maundy Thursday is Jesus’ New Commandment, that we love one another. Two weeks ago, we heard that mandate echoed as Jesus continued to give his disciples their final instructions, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” On Sunday, as the Church gathers to celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Day, we’ll hear yet another mandate, this time not from the lips of Jesus, but from the authors of the 1979 Prayer Book (who, according to Marion Hatchett, borrowed heavily from the Gelasian sacramentary of c. 7th or 8th century).
Almighty God, on this day you opened the way of eternal life to every race and nation by the promised gift of your Holy Spirit: Shed abroad this gift throughout the world by the preaching of the Gospel, that it may reach to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
This prayer might be asking God to help the Holy Spirit move her way across the globe, but the onus sits squarely on our shoulders. The Holy Spirit will be spread, at least according to this Collect, by the preaching of the Gospel. The mandate is clear, we must preach the Gospel. The problem is that we’ve so compartmentalized the Gospel that the average church-goer either has no idea what it looks like or has an insanely specific understanding of it. You’ll hear, for example, that Saint Francis said, “Preach the Gospel at all times, when necessary use words,” so good works are all we really have to do. Some will argue that marriage equality is the Gospel, while others will argue that feeding the poor is the Gospel, and still others will say that amendment of life is the Gospel. Each of these are a part of what the Gospel message calls us toward, but none are, in and of themselves, the Gospel that the Collect for Pentecost Day would have us preach.
The full Gospel can be summed up in several different ways, but I find it helpful to go back to an earlier teaching from Jesus in John’s Gospel, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever puts their trust in him shall not perish, but have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send his Son to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” The Gospel is the story of God’s love made flesh in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That love changed the world by changing the hearts of human beings. That love will compel us to do good works, to seek justice for all people, and when we sin to repent and return to the Lord, but the first step, the Gospel that will set the Spirit free, is to recognize and put our trust in God’s unending love.