The Festival of Pentecost

This week I came across a speech President Richard Nixon didn’t make. It was prepared for him just in case the Apollo 11 astronauts, Neil Armstrong and ‘Buzz’ Aldrin, were not able to leave the moon and thus they would die there with no hope of rescue. Of course everyone is glad that the speech didn’t have to be made. It is brief and skilfully crafted, in my opinion, by speech writer, Bill Safire. The opening sentence is “Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace” and it concludes, “In ancient days, men looked at stars and saw their heroes in the constellations. In modern times, we do much the same, but our heroes are epic men of flesh and blood. Others will follow, and surely find their way home. Man’s search will not be denied. But these men were the first, and they will remain the foremost in our hearts. For every human being who looks up at the moon in the nights to come will know that there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind.”

The instructions Safire wrote with the speech said that at the point when NASA ceased communication with the astronauts a clergyman should conduct a burial at sea commending the men’s souls to the ‘deepest of the deep’ and conclude with the Lord’s Prayer.

I watched the moon landing at school. It was the first time a TV had been brought to school. It was an euphoric world event. I grew up living and breathing the Apollo programme. I saved my money and purchased Apollo slides and badges. I was distressed when the Apollo programme ended with Apollo 17. But I can’t imagine the feelings – and it would be an interesting ‘alternative history’ exercise – if the moon became a graveyard in 1969; above everyone on Planet Earth; and when looking up at the moon was always tinged with death and humanity’s ‘failure’. What would death on the moon have done to the human psyche and our global future? What do you think?

On the Day of Pentecost, crowds in Jerusalem gathered and heard in many languages the ‘what happened next’ after the crucifixion of Jesus and discovered a message of death and that God has a plan not to leave us in the clutches of death, with a sense of futility and failure.

Peter said, “36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” 37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Acts 2:36-39 ESV)

Whenever we look to Jesus, look up to him on the cross, look at him with water, bread and wine, hear him in sermons, studies, personal encounters, and in the words we read in Scripture and based on Scripture, there is always an association of and a link to the cross. Yet Jesus’ death on the cross shapes the human psyche – actually the whole person! – and our personal and global future because the Pentecost message also speaks of a resurrection and an ascension and thus the truth that the God of the Universe truly cares for us personally and is with us always – which means that there is no end for living with God. Whatever the state of the world – whether we rejoice at human ingenuity or despair at human evil – the Holy Spirit gives the story of Jesus power so that people find meaning and hope how to face each day.