The first reading is Luke’s account in Acts of the first Christian Pentecost. The Jewish feast (called the feast of Weeks) started as an agricultural harvest festival, thanking God for the fruits of the earth, but its meaning changed gradually (especially after the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD) into a celebration of the reception of the Law from God as part of their covenant with Him. Jews from far away places would home in on Jerusalem to celebrate the feast. The Greek word Pentecost refers to the fiftieth day, so this story is set about seven weeks after the celebration of the Passover. The reading is the basis for the 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. Now it is to indicate the coming of the Holy Spirit which enabled them to speak out, Luke says, “in different tongues.” Some believers in the church of Corinth had been ‘speaking in tongues’, called glossolalia, during worship gatherings according to 1 Cor 12, (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. The word of God must be expressed so that all ordinary people might understand; 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) which the Jews often retold; and there could be a lesson there for our community or society today.
In the second reading Paul is addressing a problem in the Christian community in Corinth. Different people play different roles in the community arising from their gift from the Spirit of God; some had obviously wanted their own aggrandisement from these gifts without consideration for the community. In our reading, it is pointed out that the Spirit is differentiated for the good of the whole – like the different parts of a body, the body of Christ that the community is. Without the Spirit, he writes, “No one can say, Jesus is Lord.” But since anyone can actually make this statement, it must really mean that believing that Jesus is Lord is not about accepting a proposition but living in a particular way – living the way Jesus would have one live. This particular phrase, was most likely a very early statement of faith for those who became Christians. Nearly 200 years later the Creed that we have today was developed, and we must remember that believing it, is not saying the words, but determining to live how God would have us live.
The Spirit played an instigating part in the creation poem at the opening of the Bible, hovering over the disorder before the creative words are spoken (Gen 1:1-3). In Greek and in Hebrew the same word can mean spirit or wind, and it can be associated with breath. Today we celebrate a significant stage in the on-going process of creation. It was after the Word was sent by God into our world as Jesus to establish the ideal pattern for being human – from birth to fulfillment through death. Our gospel reading is from John: Good News for the 1st century disciples, but also for all who want to be successful humans – for us here today. The reading tells of the dawning of the realisation that Christ is risen – the one who now transcends earthly limitations – Sent by God. He identifies Himself showing the wounds of His life on earth. Then He sends us, who are now disciples, breathing in us the same creative Spirit. We have the task of communicating God’s forgiveness of sins; it is the really good news that we have to show to people by how we relate to them. But alas, some will hold on to their worldly and selfish pleasures and will not accept the gift we bring. Hence, though we have the joy of the Spirit, we too will suffer from the struggle, yet with deep immense joy, of working for the creation of the ideal world that God is creating.
see Jeffs Jottings – The Spirit