by Joan Fanshawe
(Based on John 20:19-23; Acts 2:1-21)
I wanted to call this ‘the more’ of Pentecost, because parts have the “but wait, there’s more” aspect.
Pentecost is the culmination of the Christian season of Easter, but was originally a Jewish festival, which is why the Jewish followers of Jesus were gathered together in Jerusalem for its 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’ (according to Luke in his account in the Book of Acts), the disciples got the more of Pentecost surely! There was much more than a babble of words.
This was/is the day when the original disciples, and every generation of disciples since, were reminded that God still moves among us, and our calling is to follow the guidance of the Spirit.
The Pentecost story recounted in Acts is uniquely our story; our Christian tradition grew from here and each year at this time we celebrate the amazing narrative of wind, fire and the gift of languages. Words that breathed life and inspiration into Jesus’s followers, bringing them out from behind locked doors and giving them the power of language enabling them to tell all the people gathered – even the Gentiles – about God’s love, grace and mercy for all people – many there from far off parts of the known world.
They all heard what the spirit was saying.
Pentecost! Fifty days measured from the Passover. Previously known as Shavout, the Festival of Weeks: this ancient festival is still celebrated by Jewish people. It has a less agricultural focus now but the custom of reading the Book of Ruth is still followed.
Impressive as Luke’s account of Pentecostal inspiration is, when we claim this as a beginning of the Christian movement we still need to remember that this wasn’t 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 creation stories when the Spirit of God “moved over the face of the waters”, and then God breathed life into the man made from dust.
More powerful spirit imagery.
And while we are back in that very beginning part of the story of 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 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 forever 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.”
The More in this is that Leviticus passage moving directly from an offering of thankfulness to justice, 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 Ruth story)
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.
For the disciples in Jerusalem, being fired up with the Spirit was the More they needed to go out and share the good news. Maybe we would all secretly like to have an experience like that. Maybe some of you have.
A story is told of a man who came to an Anglican church service, and who was enthusiastically waving his arms and speaking in tongues, rather disrupting the worship. After a while a welcomer approached him and asked him to desist, and the man said, “But I’ve got the Spirit!”. “That might be so, Sir,” the welcomer replied, “but you didn’t get it here!”
I haven’t had a Pentecostal experience like that in Acts. My experience of God has been more gentle, more the “still small voice”, or a dawning recognition, like the travellers on the road to Emmaus, renewing my hope and faith. And, occasionally, an “Aha!” moment.
If we are open to God’s Spirit then there will be many ways of experiencing that grace and peace in our lives.
This year the Gospel reading that accompanies the Pentecost story is that well known passage from John when Jesus appears to the disciples in a locked room later in the day of his resurrection. “Peace be with you” is his greeting, then he shows his hands and his side while the disciples see and rejoice. This is much more than Jesus proving his ID. For the disciples it’s a profound moment of realisation that Jesus is with them despite all that has just happened. Jesus can defeat fear and bring hope.
Then he says “Peace be with you” again. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you. When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.'”
This is John’s account of the commissioning of the disciples and today Jesus still shows us the way of love, and sends us out too. Like the early disciples, we too may find ourselves hiding behind closed doors of fear, uncertainty and doubt. Yet the Holy Spirit invites us to open our hearts and embrace the peace of Christ, enabling us to be agents of love and justice in a broken world.
This brings me to the More of our greeting of peace. Shalom. It is much more than a “hello”, but can carry a deep sense trust in God’s presence, of hope and love, in the sense of “All will be well”.
The link with the Pentecost experience that we celebrate is that the Spirit urges us to be that peace bearer to all people, by the way we live.
Can we hear what the Spirit is saying to us, God’s people, this Pentecost? God is doing something new, and we can be a part of it. 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.