Embraced by the Spirit

Makoto Fujimura's Pentecost

Images: Makoto Fujimura, Advent/Pentecost, 2017, mineral pigments and gesso on canvas, 6 x 12 ft diptych. Photographs by Alyson LeCroy

Scripture: Acts 2 The Holy Spirit Arrives, and the Church, the Harvest of the Nations, is Born


Pentecost is 50 days after Passover and marks the seventh Sunday. The Jews knew it as the Festival of Harvest, or the Feast of Weeks, when God provided the early wheat harvest. Today, we celebrate Pentecost as the day the church was born when the Holy Spirit came to believers in Acts 2.

In Acts 1, Jesus told his followers to wait in Jerusalem, “And the Holy Spirit will come upon you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) The believers went, prayed, and waited together in one place. They did not know when the Holy Spirit would come or what to expect. Then on Pentecost morning, the Holy Spirit comes with a violent wind and what seems like fire over their heads. The Holy Spirit gifts them with languages recognized by foreigners in Jerusalem.


Israel was chosen to be a light to the nations and bless them with the truth and ways of God (Genesis 12:3, Isaiah 51:4, 60:3). At Pentecost, God’s command is fulfilled as believers witness to the nations about Jesus’s death, burial, and resurrection (Acts 2:22-36). Three thousand hear the Gospel, repent of their sins and trust in Jesus Christ that first day (Acts 2:41). The church is born as the real harvest of nations.


The signs of God’s Presence, wind (2:2), fire (2:3), and speech (2:5-11), are the same signs given when Moses meets with God on Mt. Sinai and delivers the covenant to the people (Exodus 19, 20, 21).


The old covenant was conditional and relied on their faithfulness to God. But now Jesus has established a new covenant that rests on Him and His faithfulness. We cannot break it when we are unfaithful and fail to love and obey God.


Now, instead of a few people chosen to speak the truth and wonders of God, the Holy Spirit enables all believers to be a witness of Jesus Christ with and through God Himself.


God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29), and yet, like the burning bush in Exodus 3, the believers are not consumed when the fire comes upon them. Instead, when they are embraced by the Holy Spirit, they proclaim the way of the Lord.


Images below: Installation views, All Saints’ Princeton, New Jersey 2017. Photographs by Alyson LeCroy

Pentecost by Makoto Fujimura is part of a set of liturgical paintings completed in 2017 for All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Princeton, New Jersey. The church had a recent addition to the sanctuary, and he desired to make an offering. When Fujimura saw the “empty” or “waiting” walls, he saw an opportunity to serve with his art and for art to serve the worship and liturgy of the church.


Fujimura writes that what “resulted is four sets of paintings, creatively re-used at times during the liturgical year, 6-foot- high diptychs that each span 12 feet in length. The “cracks” in between can play a significant part in the installation, especially at Advent and at Easter. They are loosely based on the traditional liturgical colors assigned to each season.”


Each painting has a creative correspondence with a counterpart. These seasonal dance partners are: Advent/Pentecost, Epiphany/Easter, Lent/Good Friday and Ordinary Time paintings. The season is distinguished with the panels placed either together or apart which can be read as either “open” or “closed.”


In his Burning Bush essay, Makoto Fujimura writes,


In Advent, we anticipate the birth of Christ, and these panels are “open” (with a slight space down the center of the diptych) to indicate God’s “crack” in time and space to bring our Savior into our domain. At Pentecost, that space will be closed, to indicate the power of the Holy Spirit’s act to close all communication gaps between us and God and between each other. The south wall (to the right as you enter the sanctuary) will be filled with the resplendence of Japanese gold on top of cinnabar and dark red. Because the canvas is gilded with microscopically thin Japanese gold, an intentional “distressed” effect took place when the surface was washed down. While washing down the surface of these panels, I placed other canvases below them. The canvases that “caught” the flowing river of gold now hang on the north wall. At Christmas, this flow reminds us of divine birth; at Pentecost, the lyrical flow of the power of the Spirit to move into our hearts, giving us another New Birth.


While Fujimura’s paintings could be a source of contemplation in an art museum, here they serve the church’s liturgy. In the sanctuary, they serve as a faithful witness of God’s Presence even as they perform to “embrace” the Eucharist, which is the climax of the liturgical performance. The dance of the Advent/Pentecost paintings reflect that it is not what you can do alone, but what God can do with and through His Spirit and the church.


Fujimura concludes, “My offering will not be complete until the viewer moves into the mystery with faith, and then upon receiving the work, brings that mystery of God’s Presence to the world.”


Makoto Fujimura is an artist whose work is represented by Waterfall Mansion & Gallery in New York City and Artrue in Asia. His next book “Art & Faith: A Theology of Making” is due out of Yale Press, January 2021. For more information, see https://www.makotofujimura.com/.

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