12 June 2011
Rev Dcn Les Ruhrmund
At the time of Jesus, Pentecost was one of the three annual great festivals in the Jewish calendar; the other two were the Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles.
Passover is celebrated in the northern hemisphere (in the Holy Land) in the spring; that time when the earth awakens from its winter dormancy and everything starts to grow again. Pentecost, meaning ‘fifty’, falls fifty days after the Passover and celebrates the start of the harvest; the first fruits and grains of the new crops.
Pentecost was a time of pilgrimage. Women and children, young men and old would troop into Jerusalem; each family carrying a basket of first fruits to the Temple. The baskets would be filled with Israel’s seven fruits mentioned in the book of Deuteronomy: “A land of wheat and barley and vines and fig and pomegranates; a land of olive oil and honey.”
Historic accounts describe the procession. Travelling by district, villagers would enter the city joyfully accompanied by music and parade through the streets to the Temple Mount. Runners would advise Temple officials of the group’s imminent arrival and a welcoming committee would be sent to greet them. Before entering the Temple courtyard, the villagers would stop and rearrange the produce that had got jostled along the way and then the baskets would be hoisted onto the shoulders of their owners. Temple priests would receive the gifts and lead the people in saying the prayers of thanksgiving.
So many people travelled to Jerusalem during the three festivals, that archaeologists have found massive hotel-like structures among the ruins of the Temple and the surrounding areas.
But on the day of Pentecost that Luke writes about, rather than being out on the streets of Jerusalem celebrating the festival, the apostles with Jesus’ mother Mary are secluded from the crowds; they’re in hiding …waiting. In the previous chapter Luke tells us “For forty days after his death Jesus appeared to them many times in ways that proved beyond doubt that he was alive. And when they came together he gave them this order: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift I told you about, the gift my Father promised. John baptised with water, but not many days from now, you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.”
They are hiding and waiting. And on that day of Pentecost, fifth days after the Jewish Passover, fifty days after the resurrection of Jesus, God reveals himself to them in the Holy Spirit; anointing and confirming the apostles in their Christian faith – and the Church is born.
Those timid, frightened men are transformed into courageous, bold heralds of the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ. They are changed from being mere observers to being faithful, confirmed witnesses of the Word.
Jesus had returned to the Father and the Father and the Son have sent the Holy Spirit to guide them and sustain the grace of Christ in them.
We cannot separate Pentecost from Christ. God came to us at Christmas in Jesus Christ, to reveal to us God’s very nature; to bring about a means of salvation for the world. God came to us at Pentecost in the form of the Holy Spirit to empower the Church as a continuation of Christ’s mission; to teach, sanctify and govern; prophet, priest and king.
That same Spirit of Pentecost sustains and guides the church today.
We’re told that Peter, the first pope, filled with the Holy Spirit, addressed the large crowds that were gathered in Jerusalem and that 3000 pilgrims were baptised into the new Church.
The list of countries that Luke gives us serves less to emphasise the specific geographic origin of the pilgrims than to signal the imminent spread of the gospel in every direction. The pilgrims in the city would return to their homes, north, south, east and west of Jerusalem bringing the good news of Jesus Christ with them.
We’ll never really understand what Luke means by the tongues of fire and the noise that sounded like a strong wind – and a perfect explanation is not important. The apostles probably didn’t really understand either. What is important is the effect. We know from the actions of the apostles that from that moment onward, their lives were changed forever. Peter would never again deny that he knew Jesus.
In the gift of the Spirit their fear is changed into freedom. In the Spirit the disciples are empowered to understand the past anew and see the future with hope. In the Spirit we are able to do the same.
For each of us, our Pentecost experience is found in the sacrament of Confirmation.
Through the grace of Confirmation, we too are empowered to be public witnesses to the truth about Jesus Christ. We are empowered to bring the love of Christ into the lives to all those who will receive it. We are empowered to say “Jesus is Lord.”
Paul says in the second reading that “the particular way in which the spirit is given to each person is for a good purpose…….there are all sorts of services to be done … working in all sorts of different ways in differ people.”
Part of our mission is to discover how the Spirit has gifted us in individual ways, and to appreciate and accept the Spirit’s different gifts in others.
We are all different. Christ came to St. Paul in a different way than he did to Peter. God comes to us where we are. God speaks to us according to our needs. Let us speak to the world according to its needs.
The pilgrims in Jerusalem on that day of Pentecost heard the Gospel in a language that each could understand. There are people in our lives and in this very community who are waiting to hear the Gospel in a language they can understand. Let us translate the Gospel into words and acts that cannot be misunderstood; words like love, compassion, forgiveness and acceptance.
We don’t need to understand the great theological truths; we speak most clearly, we proclaim the Gospel most convincingly, through our actions; through our hearts.