This Sunday we bring the Easter Season to a close with the celebration of Pentecost… that moment when the Holy Spirit came to the Apostles, whose gifts allowed them to leave the upper room and spread the Gospel to Jerusalem and the world. It’s the birthday of the Church.
The Word for Pentecost Sunday
Psalm 104:1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34
1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13
Our Sunday readings open fittingly with the Pentecost story from Acts of the Apostles. It is after the Ascension and we are back with the Apostles in the upper room. Most of us are familiar with the story… The Holy Spirit come upon the like “tongues of fire” giving them the power to go down into the streets and preach the Gospel so that this international multitude can hear them speaking in their own tongues. While this later part of the story is the part we tend to focus on, the very beginning of the story also has great meaning… a meaning that our modern ears tend to miss…
The fist line begins “When the time for the Pentecost was fulfilled,” It sound so simple and obvious that we miss the author’s deeper intent. In fact, this passage refers to the Jewish celebration of Shavuot, or what Hellenistic Jews referred to as Pentecost (which in Greek for “fiftieth day” since the Passover). Also referred to as the Festival of Weeks, Shavuot celebrates the giving of the Torah… the Law. It also coincides with Israelite harvest season marking the conclusion of the grain harvest, or the Day of First Fruits celebrated at the Temple. So while our Jewish ancestors celebrate Pentecost as the giving of the Law, Christians celebrate receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, which in turn gave them the courage to spread the Gospel… the new Law. Coincidence? Not at all. This is one of those moments where our author sees an opportunity to draw a connection between the old tradition and the new, and bring with it a sense of renewal that is echoed in our Psalm.
Our second reading comes from Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians. Here Paul reminds us that our ability to say “Jesus is Lord” comes from the Holy Spirit. Indeed, a fitting statement for Pentecost, but as Paul continues he presents us with one of the most important teachings of his ministry, that WE are the Body of Christ… though we have many parts, we are made one through the Spirit.
Our Gospel for this Holy Day comes from John, taking us back to the upper room where Jesus for the second time appeared to the Apostles after the Resurrection (the first being that time when Thomas wasn’t present). It is a simple, yet moving moment as Jesus “breathed on them and said to them ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.:” This is the “Pentecost moment” in John’s Gospel. As we know, none of the Gospels go into a lot of detail with regard to Pentecost, but we need to remind ourselves that, as is typical with scripture, that it’s not always the details that are important, but the moment.
While the Gospels do not all discuss Pentecost in the same way, the importance of the moment is that the Holy Spirit came! Jesus promised them the Spirit, and it came. The Spirit that we celebrate in the Rite of Confirmation. The Spirit that sustains us in our commitment to Christ. The Spirit that binds us together as Church with Our Father and His Son. This isn’t just a moment for the Apostles, but for the entire Church, as we witness the continuing coming of the Spirit to each of us, in its own way, in every generation.
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