Today we come together to celebrate the feast of Pentecost, which in some ways feels like it’s a slightly more important Sunday than the typical Sunday, where we learn about the least important member of the Trinity, and that strange day in the Bible where the disciples had flames of fire appear above their heads and were accused of being drunk because they spoke in various languages.
But it wasn’t always this way. Pentecost used to be given much greater importance in the Church’s worship and the church calendar. This day is seen as the beginning and creation of the Church, the day that the Holy Spirit was given to the Church and formed the new community of the followers of Jesus Christ.
It begins with the disciples gathered together–on the day of Pentecost, according to the book of Acts. Pentecost is not only a holy day for Christians, but it has been a holy day for the Jews long before the giving of the Holy Spirit to the Christians that morning. On that day, Jews from far and wide would be in Jerusalem for the Feast of Weeks–Pentecost in Greek, Shavuot in Hebrew–named the Feast of Weeks because it occurs 7 weeks after Passover.
The Feast of Weeks marked the end of the grain harvest, and male Jews were to come to Jerusalem to give thanks to Yahweh for the grain which had just been harvested. An abundant harvest was seen as a testament to God’s faithfulness to the people, because a good harvest of grain would help sustain them throughout the coming year. Following the harvest, it marked the cessation of hard work, and developed into an occasion to renew the covenant made between God and the Jewish people.
And this is the day God chose to send the Holy Spirit upon the Church. A day to celebrate God’s faithfulness toward his people. A day to celebrate that the hard work is over and to enjoy the good things God has given. A day to renew one’s faith and commitment to obedience to God.
And on this day, we see something truly magnificent happen. As the disciples are once again gathered together, God comes to them, and enters into their midst. But it’s not like they expected. They were waiting for Jesus to come back to them, riding on the clouds in glory, but instead they received wind, and fire, and speaking in tongues.
In some ways, the sending of the Holy Spirit is similar to the coming of Christ into the world. There are a few clear parallels to the two events;
- God comes into the midst of the people,
- At Christmas, it was the people walking in the darkness who had seen a great light
- At Pentecost, the disciples were gathered together when the flames of fire appeared and settled on each of them
- comes in a way the people don’t expect,
- At Christmas, the divine, eternal Son of God took on human flesh to be born as a human being, just like us.
- At pentecost, the disciples were waiting on Jesus, but instead received the Holy Spirit
- and begins a new work in and among the people.
- At Christmas it was peace with God and the salvation of our souls
- At Pentecost, it was the formation of the community of Christ in the Church, and the empowerment to preach the Gospel among all the nations.
And now, with the sending of the Holy Spirit upon the followers of Chris, we see a shift happen in the redemptive work of God. Up until this point, the redemption from God was directed at the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Joseph, through the covenant made with the people at Mount Sinai, given to the people by the prophet Moses. Even Jesus told the gentile woman that he was sent only to serve the lost sheep of Israel.
And up until that point, the idea was that the one who were faithful to God were to be a beacon of light and hope to the nations. Through their obedience to the one Lord of all creation, all the nations were to see the glory of God.
But as we see with the coming of the Holy Spirit, the paradigm has changed. No longer are just to be a light to the nations, but we are commanded and commissioned to go into all the world and to preach the good news of the love of God for all people, whether Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, because all are equally loved by our God and targets of the salvation and redemption of our God.
As we see with Peter’s response to the people, the natural implication of having the Spirit of God is that we are now empowered to tell all the world of our hope in Christ, and the love of God for all humanity. This is an important point, because we often act as though the Spirit was given to us to pursue personal holiness and enjoy corporate worship and fellowship. But this is not sufficient. Important, yes. But sufficient, no. We are a people who are to go, and to preach the good news about what God has done for us in Christ.
Frightening, isn’t it? Our world, our society isn’t always the most friendly and welcoming to people who want to talk about their faith in Christ. When I was a college student at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, I was required to do street evangelism at least once, and the only time I went it was a terrible experience. No one wanted to stop and talk, and the only interaction I remember was the man who flipped me the bird and said I might as well give him an effing yamika.
But that is the point that day of having received the Holy Spirit, on that Pentecost morning. With the Spirit’s coming came the courage to speak the truth, and to stand up for what they believed in. And they continued to do just that, that where they were once afraid to leave the room for their fear of their fellow Jews, they then went out into all the world, proclaiming God’s love to the nations. Receiving the Spirit meant that they had the courage to speak the truth.
And that’s the same Spirit that is with us, here and now. Who, as the Scriptures show us, comforts us, helps us to understand the Truth, and guides us into holy and righteous living. But just like the disciples on that day, give us the strength and courage to do what is right and good and just, proclaiming God’s love for all people.