Earth, Fire, & Spirit, by Rev. Bert Marshall
A Dramatic Reading for Pentecost Sunday Based on Acts 2:1–21
Pentecost! The birth of the church! We’ve come a long way since that ancient beginning. The biblical passage for Pentecost suggests that the Christian church did not arise from a clear, single-mindedness of purpose. Our tradition, instead, burst into the world in a rush of wind, a blaze of fire, and a cacophony of voices and languages. There was no “gold- en age” of unity and harmony.
The mystery and miracle of the Jesus movement is that it rapidly gave birth to a vast array of interpretations, beliefs, and practices of faith. It may well be that this is, in part, what the passage in Acts 2 is trying to convey—that the speaking of tongues to the nations gathered in Jerusalem opens up the possibility that each nation will find its own unique way to express and to live out discipleship in Christ. All of those folks gathered around Peter and the first followers are going to go home and tell the story in their own language and with their own variations and nuances. Indeed, that has been the history of Christianity throughout the cen- turies. We may be called to be one in the Spirit, but certainly not one in practice!
The opening chapter of the biblical book of Acts provides an important context for the events that unfold in chapter 2. Remember that the remnants of Jesus’ followers were small in number and uncertain of their future. They had seemingly lost everything and now clung to a command and a promise—to wait in Jerusalem for the arrival of the Spirit. Surely they had no idea what that meant.
The following dramatic reading is written for seven speakers: a Narrator, Peter, James, Andrew, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Jesus’ Mother. The presence of “certain women” (Acts 1:14) is absolutely essential to the telling of this story. Jesus’ mother is named. It is probable that Mary Magdalene and Joanna would have been among those certain women.
Joanna is one of the women named in Luke’s gospel, which was written by the same hand as the Book of Acts. The Narrator may be male or female. The men and women could stand on opposite sides of the narrator until the tongues of fire descend, at which point they could come together at the center for the remainder of the reading. They might think of creative ways to enact the coming of the Spirit while the narrator tells of it. They should also gaze with amazement (or perhaps some incredulity!) at Peter as he makes his speech at the climax.
Narrator: How dramatically their lives had changed! They had wandered the hills and valleys and lakeshores of Galilee and Judea. They had practi- cally stormed Jerusalem. They had watched and listened as their beloved teacher, Jesus of Nazareth, had lived and taught his soul-stirring message of radical love, compassion, and nonviolence. God’s realm was at hand, he told them. It’s all around you and it’s inside you. Oh, those were the days, all right! Those were the days. And then, how suddenly it all seemed to fall apart: they saw Jesus arrested and handed over to the Romans. They—his closest friends and disciples—had fled in fear, unable to walk the final path with him to the hill where he was crucified. Terrified, they huddled in the shad- ows, hid in rooms behind locked doors, waited breathlessly for the knock that would signal their own unhappy end. Then—wonder of wonders!—Christ appeared to them. Alive!
Well, first he appeared to some of the women. And, yes, the disciples didn’t believe that the women had seen him. But then, he appeared to them! At first they didn’t recognize him. But it was Christ, all right.
He presented himself to them by many convincing proofs during forty days, and he spoke again about God’s realm. He told them to stay in Jerusalem, to wait for the promise, to be baptized by the Spirit, to receive the power, to become his witnesses to the ends of the earth.
As the story goes, they had returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying. They were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers. They also managed to pick a replacement for Judas. One day, Peter said:
Peter: So, how many did you say there are?
James: One hundred and twenty.
Peter: How many?
James: A hundred and twenty.
Peter: That’s it?
Peter: You sure?
Peter: Can’t be!
Andrew: What do you mean?
Peter: Well, three long years of trudging all over Galilee and Judea and a whole bunch of other places—and that’s while he was with us, don’t forget!—and we’ve only got 120 believers to show for it?
James: What’s wrong with that? That’s not so bad.
Peter: Are you kidding? When I think of all the miraculous deeds he per- formed, and the healings, and those great teachings that everybody loved, and the way the crowds all cheered him and followed him around, and . . . and . . .
Andrew: People are funny. You know, in the excitement of the moment they all jump on the bandwagon, but then everything quiets down again and life goes on . . .
James: That’s right. I mean, 120 people is pretty good, really. What did you expect?
Andrew: Yeah. It’s not like we’re trying to start a mass movement here or anything.
Peter: Listen. You saw all those things he did, right? You heard him say all the things he said, right? We were all standing there when he disappeared into that cloud, right?
James: (Shaking head “yes”) What’s your point?
Peter: Well, he also said to wait right here and something . . . something extraordinary will happen. Do you believe it?
James: To tell you the truth, I’m not sure what to believe anymore.
Narrator: Meanwhile, some of the women were talking among themselves. Joanna: I think the men would feel better if they’d get outside more often. Mary Magdalene: They’re too scared to go out.
Jesus’ Mother: It’s too bad. They were so brave and full of life when Jesus was with them.
Joanna: So were we.
Mary Magdalene: We still are.
Joanna: I wish more of us felt as strongly about that as you do.
Mary Magdalene: We’re all brave and strong. Who goes out every day to get food and drink for this bunch? Who keeps watch at all hours of the day and night?
Jesus’ Mother: True. I just don’t know how much longer we can hold up like this. It’s such a strain on everyone.
Mary Magdalene: Except them (pointing to the men). All they do is sit around and talk about how it used to be, how it could have been. You know, they never really understood him. Then they deserted him that night in the garden. Then they denied ever knowing him.
Jesus’ Mother: I know, I know. But I think they felt that they were in danger, too. That’s why they stayed away from his crucifixion. They thought they might be next.
Joanna: Maybe. I guess I think that if the Romans wanted any of us, they would’ve found us and hauled us away in the night.
Mary Magdalene: Exactly. Sometimes I think we should just go out and start telling people what we know and what we saw. We were with him, too. We heard what he said, we watched him heal all those people, we saw the crowds, listened to his teachings. And we were with him when he died. And I was the first one to see him alive.
Joanna: Everything you say is true, but I’m afraid no one will believe us. I doubt that anyone will even listen to us. They’ll just laugh at us.
Jesus’ Mother: They laughed at Jesus, too. Remember? Jesus took it in stride. I heard him say once that people laughed because they didn’t understand, and their lack of understanding made them uncomfortable.
Mary Magdalene: I miss him so much.
Joanna: So do I.
Jesus’ Mother: He said to wait here in Jerusalem. He said that the Holy Spirit would come to us and we would receive power. After that happens, then we can go into the streets to be his witnesses.
Mary Magdalene: You’re right. I wish the Spirit would come soon. Please, God, let your Spirit come soon.
Narrator: When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rest- ed on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Now there were faithful people of God from every nation under heaven liv- ing in Jerusalem. When they heard this sound, they gathered together. Each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. They were astounded.
James: They can’t believe they’re hearing this from a bunch of Galileans like us!
Andrew: I can’t believe it either!
James: Look at this crowd! Iraqis, Afghanis, Kuwaitis, Israelis and Palestinians, Turks and Armenians, Kurds, Egyptians and Libyans, visitors from Rome, Greeks and Arabs!
Joanna: And we can hear them speaking in their own languages about God’s deeds of power.
Mary Magdalene: They must think we’ve been drinking!
Narrator: Then Peter raised his voice and addressed them all:
Peter: Men and women of Judea, all who live in Jerusalem, listen to me. We’re not drunk; it’s only nine o’clock in the morning. No. What you’re seeing is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show signs in the heavens and on the earth—blood, fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the coming of God’s great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls upon God’s name will be saved.’
Jesus’ mother: Listen to that!
James: Do you think these are really the last days?
Joanna: I don’t know. I only know that we’ve been changed. I’ve never felt like this before.
Mary Magdalene: Nor have I. I knew him when he was with us. I watched him die. I saw him raised to life again. He changed, too; I didn’t recognize him at first. Then I watched him go away a second time. Twice I said good- bye. And now this! Something amazing is happening, I can feel it.
Andrew: I can feel it, too.
Mary Magdalene: Not long ago I thought we’d reached the end of the road. I was wrong. It was only the beginning. Could be it’s the beginning of something really big!
© Rev. Bert Marshall, 2018