May 28st, 2023 “Pentecost"
“May the words from my lips and the meditations of our hearts always be pleasing to you O God.”
We tend to think of Pentecost as the Church’s birthday - the 3rd most important festival in the Christian calendar after Christmas and Easter. But our festival of Pentecost had its beginnings in our Jewish history.
Pentecost or the feast of weeks was an agricultural festival celebrating the end of the spring harvest and marked the end of the 50 days after Passover.
So once more people had gathered in Jerusalem for a festival - people from many places who spoke many languages.
The apostles, the women - and Jesus’ family had been waiting - gathered together and devoting themselves to prayer. Jesus had told them that they would not be alone, that they were to wait. And they did just that.
Suddenly there was a sound like a violent rush of wind, tongues of fire alit on the heads of the apostles and suddenly many languages were being spoken. The apostles and the women were no longer alone - the noise - the commotion drew a crowd. We are told that many were astonished by what they were seeing and hearing - others suggested that they were drunk. Peter takes this opportunity to preach - to set the people straight on what is happening.
Luke’ telling of the Pentecost story demonstrates his storytelling ability. The reading includes hidden references to the Hebrew scriptures, a citation from the prophets, a contemporary geography lesson, an account of miracles and of course the denial of drunkenness.
Luke refers to the actual languages that were spoken in the Greco-Roman world.
The coming of the Spirit bewildered the people especially when they began to hear languages from people they would not otherwise have understood. The crowd was of varied origin but the Apostles were all Galilean. A great translation was occurring. The Spirit translates from one person to another.
On Pentecost we have the one day in the year that forces us to acknowledge the existence of the Holy Spirit. This reading from Acts shows us the direct effect of the presence of the Spirit. The disciples were able to speak in known languages that enabled them to do the work - to spread the faith and talk about Jesus. They were able to be understood.
Pentecost is a day of discernment. A day when we consider what we are being called to do or to say. A day when we consider the gifts of the Spirit and we try to figure out if we can envision a role for the Holy Spirit in our daily lives. Today we try to see renewal and life as the Spirit’s work among us.
What was the role of the Holy Spirit in the upper room on that festival? It was the launch of the Church’s mission. The Apostles got the Ok to spread the message to the ends of the earth - and they received the tools to do just that. Communication. The early Church seems to have been remarkably open to a dynamic and fluid way of operating, based on its theology and the experience of the Holy Spirit. It would not last. Freedom in the Spirit versus structure and order. A dynamic that remains in the Church.
But that does not mean that the Spirit is not with us, not working in and through us. We celebrate our glimpses of the work of the Spirit.
By the end of the story of Pentecost the disciples faced an uncertain future of ministry in an unwelcoming world and they would be separated from one another. Were they afraid of the changes? Could they even anticipate the transitions that were ahead of them?
Times of life transitions come with promises and hope, with fear and mourning. For the apostles the promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit was finally fulfilled, they received their authentic voices.
The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was not a still, small voice or a murmuring in the heart. It was noisy and dramatic. This passage from Acts shows us a Big God in a Big Word at work expanding out into the Big World. We are part of that expansion. We are part of a widening circle that began in the Acts of the Apostles.
The Spirit opens hearts and minds and ears to hear what others are saying. This is a description of the Spirit’s ongoing work. On Pentecost we celebrate the continued work of the Spirit in our midst for a particular purpose. So we can listen for the still small voice and we can also listen for the violent rush of wind that the first congregation experienced. The Spirit is with us.