Pentecost – the birthday of the Church
Read: Acts Chapter 2 verses 1-21
Pentecost took place at the Jewish festival of the first fruits, when the first sheaf of the wheat harvest was offered to God in thanksgiving. The festival also came to be associated with the giving of the law and the renewing of the covenant. It is not surprising that the early church took over Pentecost as a Christian festival to celebrate the coming of the Spirit to the first disciples. Here was the promise, the first fruits, that the Spirit would fall on many more believers. It was also a time to celebrate the new covenant relationship made possible in Christ.
Jesus had told his disciples that something was going to happen, and that they were to wait for it in Jerusalem, instead of returning to Galilee. Jesus had plans for his disciples – but he knew they could not do the work themselves – they would need his help.
And so the disciples waited in Jerusalem, praying together for several days. And then on that fateful morning there was suddenly the sound as of a mighty rushing wind. Tongues of flame flickered on their heads, and they began to praise God in many tongues – to the astonishment of those who heard them.
That morning the Holy Spirit came to indwell the disciples of Jesus: and the Church was born. The Christians were suddenly full of life and power, utterly different from their former fearful selves. The change in them was permanent.
The symbolism of wind and fire would not be lost on the first hearers. God’s breath is life-giving in every way and came to the disciples powerfully, as the sound of rushing wind testifies. Fire purifies and cleanses and a tongue of fire rested on each individual, but this was a shared experience and all were caught up in an event beyond description! There is no doubt that courage came to a group of frightened people, who burst onto the streets, and without who the gospel message would never have been heard.
The people, depicted as pilgrims of all nations, have come to Jerusalem for the festival. Perhaps they already seek God? They hear in their own languages as the Babel division is ended (Genesis 11:1-9). The crowd acts like the chorus in a Greek play as with humour Peter refutes their charge that the disciples are drunk. After laughing, people’s ears are pricked to hear the opening words of Peter’s first sermon as he turns to the prophet Joel and proclaims that the coming of Jesus has implications for the salvation of all people and indeed for all creation.
The coming of the Holy Spirit goes hand in hand with the commission and courage to prophesy. The prophetic voice of the Church needs to be heard about the Babel noises of this world as we dream God-s dreams and share his vision.
However, not all Christians agree concerning the content of God’s vision for the world. For example some congregations will be made up of pacifists, and some congregations will believe that sometimes violence is necessary in the cause of justice.
Our commitment to each other and to God must be to listen to one another and to continue to debate the hard questions, in the light of Scripture, as we try to discern God’s will for the world. Yet, while that debate continues, we must do all we can to bring an end to suffering so that peace will prevail.