Pentecost Sunday

15th May 2016

The first reading is Luke’s account of the first Christian Pentecost (Acts 2:1-11). The Jewish feast (called the feast of Weeks) started as a harvest festival, thanking God for the fruits of the earth, but its meaning changed gradually into a celebration of the reception of the Law as part of their covenant with Him. The Greek word Pentecost which we use refers to the fiftieth day after the celebration of the Passover. The reading is the basis for this Christian feast that celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit. Luke writes of the disciples, the women and all the brethren – 120 people – gathering together. In the references to wind and fire there are echoes of accounts in the Old Testament of God’s contact with His covenant people, especially through Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19f) for the giving of the Ten Commandments. Luke writes that it celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit which enabled them to speak out, he says, “in different tongues.” According to the first letter to the Corinthians it seems some of them had been ‘speaking in tongues’ (called glossolalia) during worship gatherings (as some charismatics do to this day) but Luke has different languages in mind because he wants to make the point that the Good News is for the whole known world, hence his long (traditional) list of different places and peoples; this might be a sign of the reversal of the communal pride and godless aspirations in the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis Chapter 11.

The second reading is from 1 Corinthians (12:3-7,12f) which opens with the basic fact that what makes a person a Christian and able to have Jesus as his Lord, is the gift of the Spirit. This Spirit can effect different people in different ways (many omitted in the reading). But variety does not cause the church to be broken up, but enables harmony to come from the different gifts people have. This is said because there were different views and different ways of expressing prayer and the following of Jesus. Paul wants them to see themselves as a body that needs different parts to make it what it is. We know from the beginning of this letter that there were groups in the church that differed in their understanding of what it was to be a follower of Christ. We should be guided by the Spirit that we have, but be careful to be in harmony with the body of believers.

The gospel is the same as that for the 2nd Sunday of Easter: the gospel passage (John 20:19-31), is the conclusion of this great gospel of John (chapter 21 reads as a later addition). Jesus comes to the weak and scared humans; He comes with renewed life, physical but also transcending the physical – the resurrected Christ. John always emphasised that Jesus is sent by God, is obedient to God’s will and empowered by God’s Spirit. Now Jesus passes to His followers this same commission; to bring deliverance to all who can accept it (in Chapter 9 Jesus met people who could not receive faith). This moment is like a new creation, with a renewed infusion of the Holy Spirit, as at the first creation. Then the gospel brings in the story of doubting Thomas – the sceptic who wants evidence (but who makes a baptismal confession “My Lord and my God” when he sees Jesus; and the masterful conclusion which speaks to us all “Blessed are those who have not seen, but have believed.”

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