Pentecost Sunday

24th May 2015

Luke (Acts 2:1-11), writes of the fulfillment of the promise given by Jesus before His Ascension “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses … to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8, see also Luke 24:48-51); it has the role of an introduction to the theme of the book of Acts, namely, the extension of the gift of the Spirit across the known world. It is set at the time of the Jewish feast of Pentecost (sometimes called Weeks) which is 50 days after the Passover festival, both of which started off as harvest festivals; but Pentecost had come to reflect the renewal of the covenant at the foot of mount Sinai after the exodus from Egypt. The message is mostly about the spread of the Spirit; so as there was fire and wind at Sinai, so here the Spirit comes on the first followers of Jesus as the initiation for the work they had to do. The Hebrew and Greek words for spirit are closely related to the word for wind, contributing to this description in language traditional for encounter with the divine. As part of this introduction to his theme, Luke also tells us that a large cosmopolitan crowd were present and understood and accepted what Peter said in his preaching to them. The idea of speaking in tongues plays on the two senses: ecstatic utterance and language differentiation. The words of Scripture in whatever language, are in some way the word of God for us if we but understand it properly.

In the alternative second reading Paul writes to the Galatians (5:16-24) of a more personal role of the Spirit in the lives of individuals; with the Spirit each of us can avoid sin and falling short of the mark, and we will receive the endowments for humanity at its very best, sometimes called the fruits of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience … self-control.”  It is always easy to misinterpret what others say or write; it is hard to capture the full meaning across from one language to another; but in this reading we are also crossing the boundaries of culture and nearly two millennia. The word translated as ‘flesh’ is the most awkward; it seems to refer to what we sometimes call the secular world; but just as Paul’s and the early church’s thinking developed, so now we want to emphasise the sacredness of the secular. This development is because of our incipient realisation of the presence of the Spirit in the whole of created being. Some of our traditional prayers represent this of which the sequence (Come, Holy Spirit) is one which enumerates with delightful and poetic language, the various corrective actions of the Holy Spirit upon the world and its individuals; it ends as a prayer for the Spirit to act upon us, which is really a way of urging ourselves to let the Spirit work through our lives (see also another catholic prayer).

In the Gospel (verses from John chapters 15 and 16), we have part of a group of speeches presented after the Last Supper; they are in reality addressed to the churches for whom the gospel is written and, of course, as the word of God, they have something to say to us. After the life, death and resurrection of Christ, the Spirit will come as an advocate advising us Christians how to live out in our own situations the true kind of life for which we exist. It is a message that will come to us each in our own culture, age and particular circumstances. For it is our role as followers of Christ to live out the truth as witnesses for all. The passage implies that the truth (of beliefs and of way of life) will need to develop and adapt to ever new situations. To the extent to which we can bring ourselves to live as God wants we will enhance the glorious presence of Christ in our world. We celebrate and renew our efforts at this particularly time of Pentecost.

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