Solemnity of Pentecost
May 15, 2015
Acts 2: 1-11
Rom 8: 8-17
St. Vincent’s Hospital, Harrison, N.Y.
“When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit…” (Acts 2: 1-3).
Some of you, maybe most of you, know the story. After Jesus’ resurrection, the 12 apostles and the other disciples of Jesus were terribly afraid of the Jewish and Roman authorities—afraid that they, too, might be arrested, put on trial, and perhaps executed as rebels, as Jesus had been. Jesus had appeared to them, and they’d become convinced that he was very much alive. He’d told them to stay in Jerusalem until the Spirit had come to them. But they still hid out in the Upper Room, the same room where they’d celebrated the Last Supper with Jesus and where he’d appeared to them on Easter nite and again a week later—still scared to death.
And then something exceedingly strange happened on the feast of Pentecost, an ancient Jewish harvest festival and, beginning sometime around the time of Christ, also a commemoration of the giving of the Torah to Moses. So in the 1st century it drew thousands of pilgrims to Jerusalem to celebrate God’s gifts to his chosen people, as we hear in ch. 2 of the Acts of the Apostles. That exceedingly strange event is the visible and audible coming of the Holy Spirit upon the 120 disciples of Jesus gathered in the Upper Room, a coming that resulted immediately in 2 marvelous phenomena: “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues” (2:4), and suddenly they were filled with the courage to go forth and preach “the mighty acts of God” (2:11), the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the risen Savior of the world.
The Spirit’s descent upon the apostles and other disciples is symbolized by “a strong driving wind” and “tongues as of fire.”
That “wind” is suggestive of the very Spirit of God. Recall the opening verses of the Book of Genesis: “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters” (1:1-2). The creative power of God began to work with that wind; the words translated as “mighty wind” mean literally “the wind of God”; they might also be translated as “the spirit of God.”
When the Jewish leader Nicodemus came to Jesus in the middle of the nite to talk to him about his preaching, Jesus spoke to him about being born again of water and Spirit and being born from above. He used the analogy of the wind: “The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from of where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:5-8). St. John’s Greek text uses the word pneuma, which may be translated as “wind” or “spirit” or “breath.”
So the breath of God, the wind of God, the holy Spirit of God has blown into the Upper Room and blown away the fearful hesitance of the apostles and the rest of the little Church there.
The 2d image is fire. Fire is a sign of the divine presence. When God makes a covenant with Abraham in Gen 15, a smoking brazier and flaming torch pass by to show that God is acting (v. 17). When Moses goes up Mt. Sinai to meet Sinai, the mountain is covered in smoke and flame (Ex 19:18). Fire from God miraculously consumes the sacrifice of the prophet Elijah, and even the stones of the altar (1 Kgs 18:38). And so on.
When the Spirit comes down upon the disciples, however, he comes not just in fire, but in “tongues as of fire” which “came to rest on each one of them” (2:3). The Spirit of God comes to fill the 120 disciples with courage and wisdom and all the holy gifts of God in order that they may speak the mighty acts of God. They are “disciples,” i.e., learners, who have been with Jesus; now they are to become teachers and preachers, to go out and let the whole world know about the love of God, the mercy of God, the forgiveness of God, the desire of God that every man and woman should be saved from his or her sins and become a brother or sister of Jesus, a child of God destined for eternal life.
Therefore we can say that all of us who have received the Spirit of Jesus Christ thru the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation are called to speak of Christ, teach Christ, give public witness to Christ. That doesn’t mean we have to become TV evangelists or stand on a corner handing out leaflets or something like that. But it does mean that we have to teach our children the faith, teach them their prayers, take them to church. It means that we don’t hide our faith when we’re at work, visiting with friends, or otherwise out in public. It means we should be able to answer people’s questions about what we believe and why we do what we do. As St. Peter says, “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence” (1 Pet 3:15-16).
“If Christ is in you,” St. Paul writes to the Romans, “the spirit is alive because of righteousness,” which means being in a right relationship with God, and “the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, thru his Spirit that dwells in you” (8:10-11).
Paul goes on to speak of how we now are obliged to “live according to the Spirit” and not according to the flesh (8:12-13). That is, we’re obliged to live virtuously: practicing truth, purity, diligence, forgiveness, faithfulness, etc. Elsewhere Paul assures us that those who practice vice—idolaters, thieves, liars, slanderers, adulterers, practicing homosexuals, those moved by jealousy, those whose god is their belly, etc.—will not have a share with Christ in God’s kingdom (cf. 1 Cor 6:9-10; Gal. 5:19-21; Eph 3:19; Col 3:5-10). We heard him tell the Romans, “If you live according to the flesh, you will die” (8:13).
Jesus erases all our sins, but he also calls us to repentance: to live the life of the Spirit.
St. Paul continues by assuring us that the Spirit teaches us to pray, to call upon God as our Father: “You received a spirit of adoption, thru whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!” Whenever we turn to God in prayer, we’re being led by the Spirit whom Jesus has given us. And that Spirit ardently desires to lead us always closer to our Father; always to fill us with the life of Jesus—until the power of God raises us up on the last day, and he brings us to the inheritance God has prepared for those who love him.