by Joan Fanshawe
(Based on John 15:26-27 and 16:7-15)
The culmination of the Christian season of Easter was originally a Jewish festival, which is why the Jewish followers of Jesus were gathered together in Jerusalem for this religious observance. Still recovering from their grief at the crucifixion, joy at the resurrection, and confusion at Jesus’s brief stay with them prior to the Ascension.
Pentecost! This is the day when the original disciples, and every generation of disciples since, have been reminded that God still moves among us, and our calling is to follow the guidance of the Spirit.
We might say Happy Birthday today! Sometimes we do emphasise that and why not celebrate – this is a special day for us – I think it’s right up there and I like having a church feast day celebration that doesn’t have the pressure of Christmas or Easter.
Unlike Christmas and Easter, Pentecost is little known outside the Church. The plus in that is it hasn’t been commercialised and there are no distracting side stories of bunnies and chocolate, or bears or sacks full of presents expected.
This Pentecost story is uniquely our story; our Christian tradition grew from here and we celebrate this amazing narrative of wind, fire and the gift of languages each year at this time. Words that breathed life and inspiration into Jesus followers, giving them the power of language. Words that could be understood by all the people gathered. The disciples able to tell about God’s love, grace and mercy for all people – many there from far off parts of the known world.
They heard what the Spirit was saying.
Pentecost! Fifty days. In even more ancient times, the Festival of Weeks, measured from the Passover and still celebrated by Jewish people in the festival known now as Shavuot (meaning ‘Weeks’), and celebrating a time of harvest and thanksgiving.
Because the world is less focussed on marking times by agricultural references, this has evolved over time in being a commemoration of the giving of the Torah, but one of the customs remains in that the book of Ruth is always read at this time.
Don’t be mistaken though in thinking that this wonderful manifestation of inspiration for the disciples was the first time the Holy Spirit had made an appearance to God’s people. There are many references to God’s spirit in the Hebrew scriptures. Most memorably of course at the beginning of Genesis:
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
And while we are back in that very beginning part of the story, God’s relationship with the Israelites – when many of the laws around worship, holy days, moral laws, harvest offerings, etc, were laid down by Moses – we find reference to the early celebration of Pentecost in Leviticus, marking that important harvest time.
In Leviticus 23:15-22 we read: “And from the day after the Sabbath, from the day on which you bring the sheaf of the elevation-offering, you shall count off seven weeks; they shall be complete. You shall count until the day after the seventh Sabbath, fifty days; then you shall present an offering of new grain to the Lord.“
Then follow details of the types of offering required to be presented, concluding:
This is a statute for ever in all your settlements throughout your generations.
When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and for the alien: I am the Lord your God.
Notice how the Leviticus passage moves directly from thankfulness to justice, by following the long discussion of what kind of harvest offering to bring, with the ethical demand not to harvest the fields to their fullest extent, but to leave the edges for the poor.
(Hence the relevance of the book of Ruth, in which this custom is realised.)
It’s good that we remember these roots – that Pentecost was essentially a celebration for those who had been lifted out of poverty and slavery – to remember that abundance and freedom obligate us to support those who continue to live in poverty and chains.
What then is the Spirit saying to God’s people today?
Do you hear it as a call to people of privilege, who have benefited from today’s world systems, to recognise this age-old obligation to support those who struggle to have a life because of the chains of poverty?
It is no small thing that the Holy Spirit loosened tongues on the birthday of the Church. In the face of difference, God compelled his people to engage. From Day One the call was to get closer, linger, listen, and listen some more. To bring the good news of God’s grace and love and work to bring justice and mercy in practical ways.
We seem to live in a world where words have become toxic, so easily put out into the world on electronic media platforms. Labels and ‘isms’ categorising us, half-truths and misinformation broadcasts causing suspicion and division.
How can we speak the language that means something to people who need to hear a message of the promise of fullness of life?
Debie Thomas from Journey with Jesus shared this thought:
“No matter how much I might disagree with your opinions and beliefs, having taken the step to engage, I cannot disagree with your experience. Once I have learned to hear and speak your story in the words that matter most to you, then I have stakes I never had before. I can no longer flourish at your expense. I can no longer ignore or abandon you.”
Can we hear what the Spirit is saying to us, his people, this Pentecost?
God is doing something new, and we can be a part of it. We can be the One and the Many. We can be on fire for the healing of what needs to be healed in this country and even the world.
Veni Spiritus Sanctus
Come Holy Spirit.