Message of the presidents of the World Council of Churches at Pentecost 2017

The People of the Way
on a Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace

When the day of Pentecost had come,
they were all together in one place.—Acts 2:1

Let us reflect deeply during Pentecost 2017 on the meaning of being a people of the Way on a pilgrimage of justice and peace as we find it in Acts 2:1-47.

When the day of Pentecost came, the followers of Jesus were all in one place and of one accord. They, meaning the apostles with the women and Mary, the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers, devoted themselves with singular (homothumadon) purpose to prayer. They were of one mind in anticipation. There was a oneness, a conjunction, of fellowship (association), minds, and place. All were awaiting the fulfilment of the words of Jesus, who had spoken to them about the coming of the Holy Spirit. The word Pentecost is a Greek word signifying the fiftieth part of a thing, or the fiftieth in order. Among the Jews it was applied to one of their three great feasts, which began on the fiftieth day after Passover. Of all the feasts of the Jewish year, it was the one that attracted the largest number of pilgrims from distant lands and many nations. Therefore many foreign pilgrims were assembled in Jerusalem for the festival.

On the day of Pentecost, the promised gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out on them—not on the apostles only, but on the whole 120 men and women. Then Peter stood up with them, raised his voice and addressed those who are Jews, that is, Jews by birth, as well as all others besides native-born Jews, whether proselytes or strangers, who were abiding at Jerusalem. In the early days of the church the believers in our Lord Jesus Christ were known as people of "the Way" (Acts 9:2). The term seems to have been used as a synonym for the disciples of Jesus (five times in Acts: 19:9; 19:23; 22:4; 24:14; 24:22). And it refers to the way, as being the only one. Jesus is the “way,” as well as the “truth” and the “life” (John 14:6). The followers of Jesus were people on a pilgrimage. For them, pilgrimage included, among other things, being a witness of the Risen One.

The word pilgrimage is derived from the Latin word peregrinus, meaning foreigner, and peregri, meaning abroad, referring to a traveller in foreign lands. St Augustine describes a Christian spiritual journey as a kind of estrangement and exile. The followers of our Lord were persecuted for his namesake. The way is a common expression in Acts for the Christian religion. It is a metaphor for life and conduct. The way of God and the way of life are seen as the only right and true way. The first time the term Christian (which literally means “Christ Ones”) was used in describing followers of Jesus was in Antioch, Syria (Acts 11:26: “The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch”). The way refers to their lifestyle, that is, the way of life they assumed. The Christians adopted a special way or mode of life, building on Christ, in whom they had found the way, the truth, the life. Their lifestyle identified them as being followers of Jesus Christ. Coram Deo is a Latin term that means "before the face of God," or “in the presence of God.” To live coram Deo is to live in the grace of God, under the authority of God, and to the glory of God. Christian spirituality proposes an alternative understanding of the quality of life, and it encourages a prophetic and contemplative lifestyle. This is what Pentecost is all about. It is about embracing a new life in Christ. In Christ, the Risen One, a society was founded, not on the law of self-interest and competition but on compassionate justice and self-denial. The distinguishing point by which they were known from others was their conviction that Jesus was the Messiah.

They were together - in one accord, sharing the same vision and mission in church (praising, praying, sharing the Word of God) and community (sharing their property or possessions, Acts 2:44 f.). For them having all things in common referred not only to their belief in Jesus as the Son of God but also that their conduct should be in harmony with their confession, namely that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.

To be on a pilgrimage entails deep reflection about our personal conviction that Jesus is the Lord as well as our moral obligation to heed the numerous issues of socio-economic justice around us. Part of the church’s mission and humanity’s responsibility is to protect God’s creation for future generations (Pope Francis, Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home, no. 159).

We as people of the way should stand where God is standing, even if it costs us our lives. Today religious persecution is taking place across the globe. With profound sadness we recall many who lost their lives to persecution. But we are called to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. This is our conviction. Christianity provides us a way, a path to engage in church and society—to embody the way. The gift of the Spirit shows its power, not only in tongues and prophecy, but also in our lives and conduct. Following his way, may we live in anticipation of the coming of the eternal reign of God.

The presidents of the World Council of Churches

• Rev. Dr Mary-Anne Plaatjies van Huffel, Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa
• Rev. Prof. Dr Sang Chang, Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea
• Archbishop Anders Wejryd, Church of Sweden
• Rev. Gloria Nohemy Ulloa Alvarado, Presbyterian Church in Colombia
• Bishop Mark MacDonald, Anglican Church of Canada
• Rev. Dr Mele’ana Puloka, Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga
• H.B. John X, Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch and All the East
• H.H. Karekin II, the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians