The Great and Mysterious Day
Today, we find ourselves at the great feast of Pentecost. In a sense of divine irony, a reading from the book of Acts manages to upstage the reading from the Gospel of St John. Throughout the Gospels, Christ promises the disciples the Holy Spirit; at the opening of the Book of Acts, we see the realization of that promise. I generally focus my Sunday blog on reflecting on the Gospel. Occasionally I have found no words of my own to offer so I post sermons from great preachers around the Gospel text of the day.
Yet today I find myself stumbling for words, while also struggling to find an appropriate message from the greats to offer relevant both to the spirit of Pentecost and to the array of people who read this blog. As a feast, Pentecost realizes Christ’s great promise to the disciples: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Additionally, many different groups have many different views on this great and mysterious day.
The nature of Pentecost is truly mysterious. We do not actually have a clear sense of everyone present. From Acts 1, we learn that 120 persons were present, including the 11 remaining apostles and the newly-elected Matthias. We also see direct reference to Mary the mother of Jesus in Acts 1:14, along with “the women” who are presumably the myrrh-bearing women along with some others. Acts 2 tells us that devout men from every nation under heaven gathered in Jerusalem and provides roughly 17 exemplars for the geography. Some Biblical scholars point to the 153 fish caught during the appearance of the Resurrected Jesus at the end of St John’s Gospel symbolizes all of the countries. Suffice it to say, trying to figure out how exactly the events of Pentecost unfolded proves to remain confusing. Did 12 men speak 17 languages? Did 120 people speak 17 languages? Did 12 men speak 153 languages? Did 120 people speak 153 languages? Did 120 people speak 120 languages that covered all people present? Did 12 men speak their own languages and people heard the message in their own? Did 120 people speak their own languages and people heard the message in their own?
And why did St Luke record that St Peter stood in the midst of the 11 apostles when he began to preach the great sermon of Pentecost? And why did St Luke get very specific in Acts 2:37, 42 to say that the people asked for baptism from the Apostles and devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching, especially given the ambiguous “they” that opens Acts 2?
Something happened at Pentecost. Nearly every Christian body I have been a part of has spent considerable time investigating these first two chapters of Acts with great fervency. I personally have both attended and organized multiple retreats to dive deeply into the themes of these 2 chapters. The idea that the events of Pentecost “repeat” in Acts 10 continue to rattle through our consciences like a freight train in contemplating “What possibly could this mean for us?” This particular question goes beyond a generic “application” question so frequently employed by small group Bible studies as something about Pentecost requires us to consider what it means to be the Church.
In many ways, I think it is appropriate to consider Pentecost the nativity of the Church. The events of Pentecost seem inexplicably connected with the Gospels themselves. Indeed the Book of Acts is often considered as Luke-Acts, part 1 and part 2 of the same story written by the same author. Moreover, the story of the Church as recorded in the book of Acts seems to invite us to consider what participating in this story looks like. Indeed, some Christian communities try to make this connection explicit by terming themselves “Acts 29” churches or by seeking the experience of the “early Church.”
But I think that when considering the Church relative to the experience of Pentecost, we would do well to acknowledge the mystery present in the day. We would do well to seek that same body of the Church, even if we are unclear whether it is possible that it still exists. We would do well to remember a community gathered to praise and thank God. We would do well to consider all of those presented to us by name in addition to those who we know not. We would do well to search the Scriptures, in particular the Gospels, to seek the promises of the Holy Spirit. And we would do well to thank God for His work that goes beyond our wildest imaginations.
- Blessed art You O Christ Our God
- You have revealed the fishermen as most wise
- By sending down upon them the Holy Spirit
- Through them You drew the world into Your net
- O Lover of Man, Glory to You!
May Christ empower us with the grace of the Holy Spirit to seek the unity of His Gospel to bring us to His Kingdom, where He lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit unto ages of ages.
- When the most High came down and confused the tongues,
- He divided the nations;
- But when he distributed the tongues of fire
- He called all to unity.
- Therefore, with one voice, we glorify the All-holy Spirit!