We have two accounts of the Pentecost event to enrich our reflection today. Let’s look at the gospel account first.
John’s account is subtle; it’s contained within his resurrection account. The passage begins on the day of the resurrection. Shortly before sunrise Mary of Magdala discovered that Jesus’ body was no longer in the garden tomb. She went back to tell the disciples. Peter and John ran back to the tomb with her to find it just as she had reported. After inspecting the tomb they returned to the group leaving Mary at the tomb.
Weeping, she looked, once again, into the tomb. There were two angels dressed in white sitting on the slab where Jesus’ body had been laid. “Why are you weeping?” they asked. Numb with grief, their appearance made little impression on her. Her answer was simple and direct. “They’ve taken my Lord away and I don’t know where they have put him.” She didn’t even wait for a response. She stood up only to find a man standing near her. He asked the same question as the angels. “Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?” Presuming that he was the gardener she pleaded with him, “If you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and remove him.” Then, in the matter of a second, the darkness surrounding her gave way to the light of the sun. The man spoke her name, “Mary.” Jesus was alive!
Meanwhile Peter and John had returned to the other disciples who were in hiding behind locked doors. The fact that Jesus’ body had been taken away only increased their fear of imminent arrest. Their muffled conversation was suddenly replaced by gasps. People moved to the periphery of the room. Jesus was standing in the middle of the room. His rich, full voice extended the Sabbath greeting to them, “Shalom aleichem.” He showed them the wounds in his hands and his feet. It was Jesus. Truly. It was Jesus. He was alive! Some cried. Some laughed. Some put their hands over their mouths in amazement. He greeted them a second time. “Shalom aleichem.” Then, he commissioned them. “As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.”
It’s at this moment, the very evening of the resurrection, that John inserted the Pentecost event. It was a simple action. “He breathed on them and said: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” This was the moment of a second creation. Everyone in the room recalled the words of their ancient scripture. “God shaped man from the soil of the ground and breathed the breath of life into his nostrils, and man became a living being.” Jesus went from one to another breathing
on them, blowing into them the breath of life – new life – divine life. He then anointed them for a mission. “If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven.; if you retain anyone’s sins, they are retained.” He was sending them out to unbind humankind from the shackles of sin. He was giving them the power to open the gates of heaven.
Luke’s account was much more dramatic, and much more public. It took place fifty days after the resurrection – after the Passover of the Lord. It was on the day of the Jewish feast of Shavuot, commemorating the day God gave Moses the law – the day the twelve tribes became a nation with law and statutes.
The disciples were in hiding when they heard the deafening noise of a driving wind. It was so loud that it was heard in the street below them. Then a fire bolt exploded in the middle of the room sending tongues of fire to rest on the head of each man and woman. The flame purified them of their fear and hesitation. The people outside not only heard them proclaiming “the mighty acts of God,” but heard the proclamation in their own language, and the proclamation pierced their hearts. Three thousand people came to believe in Jesus that day!
On the day of Pentecost God breathed new life into the frightened disciples of Jesus. That day, the fire Jesus promised to cast over the earth entered the hearts of the disciples only to pour out of them in words of proclamation.
Today, let’s ask the Spirit to purify our hearts with holy fire that touched the early disciples. Let’s breathe in the Christ life that the Spirit brings. Let’s not be afraid any longer to see the world in a new way. Let’s not be afraid to witnesses to his teachings and his ministry and his living presence among us.