From Via Dolorosa to Azusa Street

Recently, I have been learning quite a fair bit about orthodox tradition and liturgy. Interestingly, on the liturgical calendar after Eastertide, we count the days as the “X” day of the week after Pentecost. So the first Sunday after Pentecost, the second Sunday after Pentecost, so on and so forth. That is how the days are reckoned till you get to Advent. In a sense time is measured by Pentecost. Now the Paschal season is over, we are in that period after Pentecost and reflecting on it time indeed has forever been altered since.

In the biblical metanarrative, the fulcrum of history turns on Palm Sunday to Pentecost. When those world altering things were happening, no one except the one who it was happening to, Jesus the young prophet out of Galilee, knew what was really happening, not even his closest disciples. Having been captured by the Roman authorities and forced to bear his cross through the streets of Jerusalem it seemed to all that witnessed it a replay of all Messianic movements before, crushed by the power of Rome as they do to all upstart rebellions in their totalizing empire. The humiliating path that Jesus is said to have walked is known as the Via Dolorosa which is Latin for “The Way of Sorrow.” Though the Roman road was built decades later, it showed Rome’s continued dominance in what was considered a strange backwater part of the imperial world. All people could see was the ignominy of the Messiah’s mortal journey but it was a walk down a street that changed things forever.

By his resurrection the nascent Jesus’ movement claimed Jesus was Lord but Caesar continued to have his way. The climactic events surrounding Jesus were like an earthquake. The epicentre was the resurrection but it took a while for the seismic waves to ripple across the world and throughout history even though the ground had already inexorably shifted. Jesus himself never travelled outside of Palestine during his itinerant ministry and the pinnacle of his activities was focused on Jerusalem. It is precisely because of those localised events the young movement took on a new global dimension, just as their Messiah had always envisioned. Historians will tell you without the resurrection, the rise of the Jesus’ movement cannot be historically accounted for. Paul famously said the same thing and more.

Jesus’ exaltation made him Lord of the entire world which gave his followers the imperative to proclaim his rule. On Pentecost was the first public declaration of Jesus’ kingship. The Spirit’s outpouring was after all to energize his followers to bear witness to him everywhere. It launched the biggest and most robust campaign in human history which in spite of seemingly insurmountable odds initially and always being challenged, has continued unabated for two millennia. According to statistics, Christianity is now truly global such that there is no one centre of Christianity. One of the most remarkable strides is in China which after years of communist atheistic propaganda, the Church is growing extraordinarily. There are many stories like that of kingdom of God growing inconspicuously like a mustard seed all over the world. This unprecedented reach is due to in no small part the Pentecostal Movement of the early 20th century.

The Azusa Street Revival in downtown Los Angeles, United States, which began on 9th April 1906, birthed what is considered by many as the fastest growing religious movement in all of human history. Another world changing moment caused by Jesus on an unremarkable street. What people, even Pentecostals, forget about the movement is that it is not about the ecstatic occurrences. People get caught up in the wonderful weirdness of it all and lose sight of what it indicates and accomplishes. The first generation of the movement called themselves “Pentecostal” because it was about being spiritually energized to bear witness to Jesus just like the first Pentecost after Easter. It was the seminal missional event so the modern renaissance of it spread immediately like wildfire throughout the world. The perplexing signs that happen are indicators that reality itself has changed and new things are happening in the world because God in the resurrected Messiah and by the Spirit is going to renew all of creation. The Pentecostal experience demonstrates a far greater reality than we could ever imagine so we should not be trapped in the sentiment of the moment but out of it be empowered to represent Jesus’ Lordship in all things.

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