Readings for Day of Pentecost 11 May 2008 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Pentecost Day A,11 May 2008 Textweek

Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:24-34, 35b; I Corinthians 12:3b-13; John 20:19-23

There are some quite auspicious similarities in celebrating Mothers’ Day and Pentecost. Both are celebrations of creativity, both are celebrations of birthing, of giving in Love, and both are celebrations of the gift of life. Mothers’ Day is quite straightforward; it’s easily understood and therefore appreciated. Pentecost however, is of a quite different order, and if we treat it with the same simplicity then we will lose the very gift that it seeks to reveal.

Pentecost can be seen, can be seen as the birthday of the church, the account that we’ve just heard from the Acts of the Apostles. It can be seen as the event that initiated the disciples and motivated them into becoming the church. It therefore locates our beginning as church into history; it gives us a starting point and in celebrating it year by year we acknowledge a life span of the church. Such an interpretation of Pentecost however, is based on an understanding of the Bible as a historical record. It’s an early misunderstanding, it’s a misunderstanding that is so easy to appreciate and it’s a misunderstanding that’s still perpetuated, for the Bible is not a historical record, it’s much, much more than that. It’s a mirror for our soul, it’s a reflection of our very being, and it’s a revelation of the Divine.

So with that as the framework, let’s look again at the Pentecost narrative; let’s seek within that narrative reflections, for in the story of Acts, that first reading that we heard, there is in the Pentecost narrative a hint of the experience that we have in our eucharist, or perhaps in our eucharist there is a hint of the experience of Pentecost: ‘They were all together in the one place’. That doesn’t mean geographically; again, it’s more than that. Together, with a common orientation, an orientation toward the Divine, together, seeking to look beyond the distractions of the world, they were all together in the one place. And then in verse 3 we hear, ‘divided tongues, as of fire, appeared and rested on each one of them’. In their being together there is a common experience, but their individuality is still acknowledged. Verse 4, ‘All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages’.

First we note the inclusivity of that phrase, ‘all of them’, and then immediately we hear of the different languages; it’s worth a pause to consider the implications of speaking in different languages. Israel speaks a different language to Palestine, America speaks a different language to Iraq; closer to home, the AFL speaks a different language to the NRL. Here we also find parallels with the tower of Babel, that story. Finding those parallels, one of the ancient texts that was then drawn into the Old Testament, we now hear that story told again in the narrative of Pentecost. It suggests a timelessness in the narrative; it suggests that there is something to be found and to be revealed to everyone in every age.

Having introduced those different languages, verse 5 to 12, the bulk of the text, emphasizes the important part of this narrative, and in that, in verse 12, our question is asked: ‘What does this mean?’ What was it that amazed and astonished, what amazed and perplexed? Well, we find out in verse 8: ‘how is it that we hear, each one of us, in our own native language?’ Filled with the Holy Spirit they could hear and be heard. Imagine if Israel could hear Palestine and if Palestine could hear Israel; imagine if America could hear Iraq and Iraq could hear America; imagine if I could hear the pain and joy of another and another could hear my pain and joy. In that imagining, we would find ourselves all together in one place.

Pentecost is one of the stories, one of the myths, to reveal our giftedness. Our giftedness is that which is indicative of the abiding presence of the Divine; our giftedness is that which is indicative of our Christ-likeness. The purpose of placing this narrative in the Gospel, appreciating that the Gospel in its wholeness seeks to be a narrative that speaks of the revelation of Christ, the purpose of the Pentecost narrative is to make clear the point that when Christ goes, which is the feast of the Ascension - ‘I leave’ – when Christ goes, another comes. And the ‘another’ is the Holy Spirit, but we then need to hold, as we will next Sunday, that God, Christ and Spirit are one. When Christ goes, the Divine abides, the Divine abides.

The Pentecost event is there to stop us from worshipping Christ, so that we might know that we can reveal Christ. That’s the movement that Pentecost asks of us. Do not worship some man in the past, reveal, reveal the Divine that abides in the every moment. Paul, in the second reading, underlines the universal nature of that revelation. In verse 7, ‘To each’, in other words to everyone, ‘to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit’. The gift of Christ, the presence and the power of the Divine is given to each, ‘for the common good’.

‘When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit.”’

Peter Humphris