This weekend the Church celebrates the Feast of Pentecost. The Acts of the Apostles provides the first reading. It is the dramatic story of the first Pentecost. In this story, the imagery is very important, since the images spoke volumes to those persons in the first century 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. Small flames, or tongues of fire, appeared and settled above the Apostle. God came in the form of fire on several occasions in the Old Testament, as when God spoke to Moses from a burning bush.
As would be today, communication among people was burdened by the use of many languages. Indeed, in the view of pious Jews, multiple human languages had not so much evolved as they were the direct result of efforts to avoid God’s justice and to outmaneuver God.
After being empowered by the Holy Spirit, the Apostles were understood in all languages. It was a sign that God willed the Gospel to be heard by all. Additionally, the effect of the sin of attempting to outwit God was set aside.
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 were able to hear, and indeed heard, the Apostles’ proclamation of Christ.
St. Paul’s First Epistle to Corinth supplies the second reading. Paul declares 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. They are not ships passing in the night. They are one, as one body is one but composed of parts having different functions. It is a lesson about the Church’s place in salvation.
St. John’s Gospel supplies the last reading. It recalls the visit by Jesus, crucified but risen, to the Apostles who are afraid, huddled together in bewilderment. Jesus, undeterred by locked doors, appears in their midst. He brings them peace, which obviously the world cannot give them. Indeed, they cannot find it for themselves.
The Lord commissions them to continue the work of salvation. He bestows the Holy Spirit on them, conferring powers above all human power. Finally, Jesus empowers them to forgive sins, a divine power, and the right to judge the actions of others.
For weeks the Church joyfully has proclaimed the glory and divinity of Jesus, crucified but victorious over death. Throughout the process, the Church has been careful to say that Jesus did not come and go in human history. He still lives.
Now, in remembering Pentecost, the Church tells us how the Lord remains with us. He remains with us, through the Holy Spirit, in the community of the Church and specifically with the assistance and guidance of the Apostles.
Pentecost was a feast for the Jews. It was the day when they recognized, and rejoiced in, their national identity and ethnic cohesiveness, and specifically in the link between their nation and God.
For Christians, the new Pentecost celebrates their cohesiveness, created by the common realization of life in God. No ethnic or national characteristics are important. All humanity is in the mind of God. The Holy Spirit creates and refreshes this union.
All barriers created by human sin or human limitations fall before the will of God that in Jesus all should have eternal life. Pentecost celebrates true Christian identity.
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