This weekend the Church celebrates the feast of Pentecost. The Acts of the Apostles provides the first reading, the dramatic story of the first Pentecost. In this passage, the imagery is very important, since these images spoke volumes to those persons in the first century A.D. in Palestine who heard the story.
For example, the story tells that suddenly, as the Apostles and the community of Christians were gathered in a secluded place in Jerusalem, a strong, loud wind was heard and felt. In the Old Testament, God often appeared with, or in the midst of, a strong, loud wind.
God came in the form of fire on several occasions in the Old Testament, as when He spoke to Moses from a burning bush. Small flames, or tongues of fire, appeared and settled above the Apostles.
As would be the case today, communication among people then was burdened by the differences among the many languages.
Another image is here: In the view of pious Jews, multiple human languages did not just evolve but were the direct result of efforts to avoid God’s justice and to outmaneuver God. But God produced the many human languages to punish the people for their defiance long ago.
After being empowered by the Holy Spirit, the Apostles were understood in all languages. The people saw in this a sign that God willed the Gospel to be heard by all, and further, that through Christ sins were forgiven.
The reading lists the nationalities represented in Jerusalem on this important Jewish feast day. It actually notes almost every major area of the Roman Empire. All nations therefore were eligible to hear the Gospel of Christ.
St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians supplies the second reading. Paul declared that no human conclusion, in and of itself, can truly impel a person to turn to Christ. Secondly, the very life of Jesus, given in the Holy Spirit, dwells within each Christian, uniting Christians in a very basic bond. When persons open themselves fully and humbly to God, the Spirit comes to them. They recognize the Lord. They no longer are blind.
St. John’s Gospel supplies the last reading. It recalls the visit by Jesus, crucified but risen, to the Apostles who are afraid, anxiously huddled together. Jesus, undeterred by locked doors, appears in their midst, bringing peace and confidence. He is the only source of true insight and of strength.
The Lord commissions the Apostles to continue the work of salvation. He bestows the Holy Spirit on them, conferring powers far above all human power by empowering them to forgive sins, a divine power, and giving them the right to judge the goodness, or otherwise, of the actions of others.
For weeks the Church joyfully has proclaimed the glory and divinity of Jesus, victorious over death. Throughout the process, the Church has been careful to say that Jesus did not come into, and then depart, human history. He still lives. In remembering Pentecost, the Church tells us how the Lord is with us. He now lives, through the Holy Spirit, in the community of the Church, guided by the Apostles.
Pentecost already was a feast for the Jews. It was the day when they acknowledged, and rejoiced in, their national identity and ethnic cohesiveness, and specifically in the vital link between their nation and God.
For Christians, the new Pentecost celebrates their own cohesiveness, created by their common realization of life in God. No mere earthly differences matter. God offers salvation to all humanity. The Holy Spirit creates and refreshes this union.
Signs make abundantly clear that God is within us in Christ, offering us peace at present and joy in eternity.
Nothing can deny us this access to God, except our own sin.
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