ACTS 2:1-11 | 1 CORINTHIANS 12:3B-7, 12-13 | JOHN 20:19-23
It was fifty days after Passover. It was the Feast of Shavuot, the celebration commemorating the giving of the Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai. It was a day to eat festive pastries, to decorate homes and synagogues with flowers and to bring all the children to synagogue to witness the reading of the ten commandments. It was a day to contemplate Israel’s binding contract with God, the Law.
But it wasn’t so festive for the disciples of Jesus in the Upper Room in Jerusalem. They were in hiding even though they had seen Jesus many times since his death. He spoke with them and instructed them about his life and mission. Some of them saw him ascend to the Father, but even though he promised to send the Spirit to them, they were frightened. They felt empty and, frankly, abandoned.
It happened suddenly. It was a loud sound of wind howling through the room, but they felt nothing. Then there was fire, small flames that looked like tongues that moved around the room attaching themselves to the disciples. And as the tongues touched them, they began to speak languages that weren’t their own. The Spirit Jesus had promised was embracing them. They were filled with courage, each one boldly giving witness to the Jesus event and proclaiming the message about the Kingdom of God.
People on the street heard the commotion – the wind and the cacophony of voices. A large crowd formed. What in the world was going on? How could it be that everyone, the people from Turkey and Iraq, Egypt and Libya, Iran and India, Greece and Rome who were visiting Jerusalem, heard the disciples’ message simultaneously in their own language and dialect?
Luke was reporting this Pentecost event fifty years or so after the fact. He was thinking of that day, but also of the on-going Pentecost he was witnessing. By the year 85 AD when Luke was writing, there were Christian communities throughout the Roman empire in areas we call Africa, the Middle East and Europe. The Roman persecutions had begun twenty years before, but the communities were still growing, and the gospel was still being preached. The fire of Pentecost remained with the disciples. People of every language were hearing about Jesus, and accepting him as Messiah and Lord. The Kingdom of God was near.
Today, you and I are reflecting on the same Pentecost event that the early disciples experienced; and, like Luke, we’re simultaneously looking around the world of today. We see people still reaching out to the tongues of fire; they’re proclaiming the Gospel and people are listening – in China, North Korea, India, throughout Africa and the Middle East. In so many of these places the persecutions continue, but the message is still proclaimed.
We recall St. Paul, recently released from prison, writing to his co-worker Timothy: “This is the gospel I preach even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word cannot be chained. Therefore, I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they, too, may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.”
It’s Pentecost. We’re celebrating the giving of the new Law, the Law of the heart that Jesus proclaimed on the Mount. We’re celebrating our anointing with the Spirit. The Kingdom of God is indeed near; it dwells in our hearts. It empowers us to dedicate our lives to the preaching of the Gospel. It empowers us to be the “light of the world” and “the salt of the earth.”