When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house . . . . Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
(Acts 2:1-4 NRSV)
Imagine you were there, in the city for the Pentecost festival, celebrating and giving thanks for the first fruits of the wheat harvest. Maybe you traveled some distance to attend, as was expected of the devout worshippers of the One God. Others were present as residents of Jerusalem, having made the City of David their home some years prior. Whatever the situation, just 50 days prior you had been present for the Passover festival, and now it was Pentecost.
Your memories from Passover were still fresh. You had been among the pilgrims when the One they called Messiah entered the city. You were aware of his arrest just a few days later. Then you heard he had been crucified – another victim of Rome’s brutal sense of justice.
But the most astonishing reports had circulated in the days that followed, that he was somehow once again alive! These reports even reached your home town miles and days away from Jerusalem. Could it be true? Now, back in the Holy City, reports from the grapevine newsfeed were that his followers had resurfaced, and were preaching and teaching in this risen One’s name.
Coming to Jerusalem for a major festival was always a melting pot experience. People of different lands, languages and ethnicities gathered in the common cause of faith and devotion. Jews and God Fearers alike occupied the city, with some Gentiles around, looking to profit off the business opportunities a crowd brings. And, of course, the ever present Romans, keeping – enforcing – the peace.
In such a “gathering of differents” communication could be challenging. Did one speak Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, or another language or dialect? Would an interpreter be available when needed to exchange money, purchase supplies or secure lodging? Navigating the diversity could be exhausting.
So when it happened, the miraculous events of that Pentecost festival morning, the experience was a complexity of unification. The one known as Peter (the Rock) began to address the crowd, just as the wind picked up, stirring awareness and interest. Even though he appeared to speak in his native tongue, the diverse gathering of nations and peoples could understand him, in their own languages, without the aid of an interpreter.
Peter was quoting verses from the prophet Joel, about God’s Spirit being poured out. He said that Jesus had come as God’s Anointed, died on that cross as an ultimate sacrifice for sin, and rose from the dead as our own first fruit of abundant and eternal living.
There was an energy and intensity to his preaching, magnified in the other disciples who joined in the communication effort. They each had a glow about them, as if illuminated by a kind of floating flame, giving a halo effect. But, the multi sensory experience was secondary to the message itself. It was all about the man known as Jesus – the same man who had dominated Passover week.
You were at the festival to give thanks for the first fruits of the wheat harvest, when another harvest was being realized – the harvest of souls! People began to call out to Peter, “What shall we do?” “Repent and be baptized,” he said, “in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.”
The response to that call to repentance and baptism was extraordinary. Thousands of Jews, some God Fearers, Medes, Persians, Egyptians, people from Mesopotamia and Asia professed faith in the risen Lord and joined The Way. It was as if – as if this had been incubating in them for the 50 days since Passover, and with the breath of the Spirit they/we were ready to act, ready to believe.
Something new was birthed at this Pentecost festival. A movement? A new faith? A people called out and into mission? Some are calling it an ekklesia – a church. And now that it’s begun, there’s no reining it back in. It is going with all of those diverse people back to their homes and homelands. It’s the unleashing of a message of hope and life. A new kingdom and reign of King Jesus has begun – on earth as in heaven.
Spirit (ruah in Hebrew, pneuma in Greek) is known in the Scriptures by the word pictures of wind, water, breath, fire, cloud, dove, and tongues of fire – all things that cannot be contained or boxed up. This is Pentecost. A new beginning. A birth. A coming together for a sending forth. The reversal of Babel, confusion made clear. Good news. Good news indeed.
We today are the legacy recipients of this same Pentecost outpouring of God’s Spirit. We celebrate the day because it truly is a gift of God’s grace. God lives within us, as Christ followers who’ve been given this Spirit. God lives among us, as the church – the body of Christ on earth – is emboldened and empowered for ministry. God’s breath, wind, fire, cloud, doves dance amidst us in ever ebullient joy, not able to be contained, but forever morphing into fresh expressions of kingdom of God living.
Let us say “yes” to Pentecost! Let us say “yes” to the Spirit! Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful and kindle in us the fire of your love. Amen.
2 responses to “Pondering Pentecost”
Thank you, Dan.
Love this description of Pentecost..,..great word choices! Good luck in Commisky
….they could probably use a little spoiling😉