“When the day of Pentecost had come, the disciples were all together in one place.” That statement, so simple, holds a world of meaning. Behind that statement is a 50-day roller-coaster ride that has changed their lives forever. In front of it is another long ride that will change the world forever.
Pentecost is an important feast day for Jews. It is called Shavuot. It began as a thanksgiving celebration at the beginning of harvest time and later also became a time of remembering the giving of the Law. It is celebrated 50 days after Passover, a sabbath of sabbaths thus the name Pentecost.
Imagine for a minute that you are there. The air is heavy with the smell of fresh bread, ripe fruit, rich spices, heavy incense, animals and people. The streets are crowded. People from all over the world have traveled to Jerusalem for this holiday. You hear Greek, Latin, Aramaic, some African languages, some European languages, some Middle Eastern languages in a cacophony of sound as vendors push their wares and tourists barter and buy in the narrow streets full of open-air shops. Roman soldiers on horseback patrol the streets. In a large upper room on one of these streets the disciples of Jesus wait. Perhaps they remember a dinner they had in a room just like this, perhaps this is the very same room where Jesus had shared a meal and washed their feet. He had said so much that night that they tried to remember, but the evening had ended so dreadfully with Judas’ betrayal and Jesus’ arrest. In a room like this, or perhaps this very room, Jesus had appeared “resurrected” he called it. Alive after they had seen him die and be buried and they struggled to remember all the times he had told them that he would die but would come back and they waited trying to understand what it all meant.
“And suddenly from heaven came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.” I have lived through many hurricanes on the Texas gulf coast. We either evacuate or hunker down in a safe building watching the poor news reporters try to stand up and talk in it before it gets too strong. I have seen trees uprooted and ships set upon dry land. Imagine for a minute that is happening inside the room where you are sheltering, already worried that you might not be safe outside because of your association with Jesus.
“Divided tongues of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.” Now they each look like human birthday candles. I imagine them pointing and trying to explain to each other what they are seeing and asking if there is a flame resting on them that they perhaps cannot see.
“All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit” – This is what they had been waiting for. This was the promise that Jesus made to them as he left on the day he returned to heaven.
If things weren’t weird enough, the Tower of Babel is flipped upside down. Instead of people who sought to be gods losing the ability to speak with one another, people who have been waiting for God now find that their different languages and cultures are no longer a barrier to communication.
This day marks a new beginning. We remember this day as the day the Church was born. We are told that Peter, who could seldom open his mouth without putting his foot into it became an eloquent preacher that day. He preached from a passage in the book of Joel about a day when the spirit of God would be poured out on all people: young and old, men and women, slaves and freemen. Three thousand people came forward asking to be baptized and a community of believers was formed that functioned as a family, taking care of and looking out for one another, sharing from their blessings with those who were in need.
What would happen if instead of just remembering nostalgically about an odd historical incident we remembered sacramentally. If we claimed the full meaning of anamnesis, the kind of remembering we claim to be doing in the Eucharist where we are not just going through the motions recalling an event from the past, but we are reliving that moment united to those who were there?
In a few minutes we will recite the Nicene Creed and we will say “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life.” What would happen if the belief we claim was not just an intellectual acknowledgement of some theological definition of the Trinity, but was a believe based on faith, on trust, on willingness to accept the gift of the Spirit and everything that includes.
It is possible it might include some weird experiences. We experience the sound of a mighty wind and tongues of fire. We might find ourselves communicating in foreign tongues. We might be invaded by large numbers of people asking to be baptized and wanting to join our community. We might find our hearts being made more generous so that we begin to look out for the needs of one another more than our own personal wants. We might see people being healed when we pray for them. God might put us in the path of someone we normally would not hang out with, who might ask us about our faith, like Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch or Peter and Cornelius. We might find ourselves establishing and nourishing new church plants like Paul. We might find ourselves writing letters or even books describing our faith experiences for others to read. We might find ourselves traveling to distant lands sharing our faith along the way as Thomas did journeying to India.
The gift of the Holy Spirit is the power to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world. It is possible, actually probable that we will make people in power uncomfortable. Jesus’ hands and feet were nailed to a cross. Stephen, a deacon, was stoned to death because he dared to speak the truth. James, the apostle was executed by Herod. Peter and Paul were probably executed by the Romans.
Today people seek the thrill of danger by extreme sports – climbing mountains, driving race cars, riding bulls, or plummeting down snowy mountains on a couple of boards strapped to their feet. What if we refused to be content with just sitting in a pew an hour a week and we embraced the danger and excitement of daring to ask God to fill us with the Holy Spirit and really mean it. What if like Mary, we said, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to your word” and then waited expectantly to be filled with God’s presence. Do we dare to be that bold? Or will we be like the Israelites who after hearing the voice of God told Moses, “We don’t ever want to hear God’s voice again – you speak to him for us. “
Some of you may recognize this prayer. If so, if you really mean it, join me, if it is new to you and you are ready to embrace a new adventure just say AMEN when I finish.
Let us pray.
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.
O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations, Through Christ Our Lord, Amen.