Pentecost: The Church becomes “pandemic”!

Daniel S. Schipani, DrPsy, PhD, Professor Emeritus of Pastoral Care and Counseling. (Credit: Peter Ringenberg)

By Daniel S. Schipani, Dr.Psy., Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Pastoral Care and Counseling

Interestingly, the words pandemia and pandemic don’t originally have a negative meaning or connotation. They come from the Greek word πάνδημος (pándēmos, from pan ‘all’ + dēmos ‘people’), meaning “of or belonging to all the people, or public.” It’s true that with time, the words pandemia and pandemic became associated with a disease prevalent over a whole country or the world, such as COVID-19. And other words with the prefix pan, such as pandemonium (“abode of all demons”!), of course do have a negative connotation.

On Sunday, May 31, we celebrated Pentecost, the birth of the church as dwelling or temple of the Holy Spirit. The church has been thus empowered to engage in God’s mission in the world in the name and the manner of Jesus Christ … to witness “to the ends of the world” (Acts 1:8). We can therefore say that in Pentecost we celebrate the church’s call to become truly pandemic — in the original sense of “belonging to all the people.”

The effective, malignant work of the coronavirus is undoubtedly a manifestation of evil. At the same time, the current COVID-19 pandemic has exposed our human fragility and vulnerability together with the limitations, shortcomings and injustices of political-economic systems around the world. So the manifold manifestations of the virus also call our attention to the sinfulness and structural evil in the systemic structures that govern our daily life.

The church is entrusted to become a global community serving the whole world to partner in God’s holy mission: “ … all people on earth will be blessed through you” (Gen. 12:3). I see our vocation, therefore, as truly, boldly, generously pandemic! May we be faithful ministers of the gospel of God’s reign — that is, the good news preached and taught by Jesus, and the good new reality enacted in his  ministry of healing and reconciliation. As Jesus was sent so are we, endowed with the Spirit’s wisdom, grace and power. Amen.

Photo credit: Peter Ringenberg