You have probably heard the story of Pentecost many times in your lifetime. You have also probably seen different paintings or illustrations trying to capture the moment. Yet if you pay close attention to the Scriptures that tell us about the coming of the Holy Spirit, you might find that your notions about this event are more dependent upon art work that you have seen rather than the Scriptural account.
Most of the pictures of Pentecost that I have seen show the apostles and the Blessed Mother gathered in the upper room at prayer. Usually there are little tongues of flame hovering over the heads of those who have gathered. If asked how many people were present when the Holy Spirit came, many of us might respond that there were about one or two dozen people present. Yet just a few verses before the story we read today, St. Luke tells us that about 120 people were gathered around St. Peter after the Ascension.
These were all followers of Jesus – they had witnessed his miracles, loved his message, grieved at his death and rejoiced at his Resurrection. They must have been stunned and bewildered by all that happened through and to Jesus. Jesus had promised to be with them always, but they suddenly found themselves very alone. However, they were sticking together; they were crowded into a house; and they were praying.
Pentecost was no quiet scene. St. Luke tells us that a strong driving wind filled the entire house. We have to keep in mind that the Greek word for wind is the same word that is used for breath and “spirit.” The Scriptures take advantage of that fact in describing the Pentecost event. God had breathed into a lump of clay when God created the first human being. Wind had driven the waters of the Red Sea apart so that the Israelites could cross over on dry land. Wind had shattered the mountain called Sinai when God gave Moses the tablets of the Law. Elijah heard God in a whispering breeze while hiding in a cave as he ran from Ahab and Jezebel. The wind had whipped up the Sea of Galilee as the apostles were crossing in a boat from one side to the other. The images of wind are used extensively in the Scriptures to tell us of various theophanies – revelations of God’s presence.
We may not feel the strong, driving wind nor see the tongues of fire as we celebrate today, but the Spirit is very really here and dwelling among us. The Spirit has given us varied gifts in order to build up God’s kingdom. That same Spirit of Jesus is empowering each of us to go out and boldly proclaim the Good News just as the Spirit emboldened Peter to go out and preach to the people who had gathered in Jerusalem on the Jewish Feast of Pentecost. While the Jews were celebrating the day on which God made a covenant with the children of Israel and gave them the Law, Peter stood up in their midst and proclaimed that God had made a new covenant with them in the person of Jesus. Peter proclaimed that Jesus had died for all, that he has forgiven our sins, that he has destroyed death’s power over us, and that in all things, Jesus loves us. That is really Good News. That is something to shout about. Yes, Pentecost was no quiet scene.
Thousands of years before the first Pentecost, the people of the earth had decided to build a great tower that would reach to the heavens. They reasoned that such a tower and the city that would surround it would make them famous among all the peoples of the earth. They would shatter the boundary between God and themselves and pierce the sky with brick and mortar. God saw their arrogance and confused their language so that they could not understand one another and could not complete their tower.
That ancient sin is the first to be forgiven on the first Pentecost. The Holy Spirit was sent for the forgiveness of sins just as Jesus had been sent to us. Peter and the apostles, who probably knew only Aramaic, preached the Good News of Jesus to people of every nation and tongue. All of them heard the Gospel preached in their own language. The confusion that had come about because of sin was set aside and once again people were united. The Holy Spirit had come among them and made them one. Giving each of us different gifts, the Spirit makes it possible for us to live as one. So each Sunday we gather as one – in communion – to celebrate the great event of our Redemption in Jesus Christ, the event which continues to happen each and every day of our lives as we live out our Baptismal commitment faithfully.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator