Reading: Acts 2. 1-21
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” (vs. 1-12, NIV)
Today, our reading tells us about what happened on the day of Pentecost. Pentecost was actually one of the Jewish festivals, called ‘Shavuot’. On Shavuot, they celebrated the harvest, and also remembered the giving of the law on Mount Sinai, the event when Moses received ‘Ten Commandments’ from God. And it was to take place fifty days after the festival of Passover. The purpose of this celebration was to remind them of how to live their lives as God’s people, following the law.
Then, what we see from this passage is that fifty days after Easter, the coming of the Holy Spirit is to teach us how to serve God, and how to live as the Spirit-filled people. And, if we compare these two events a bit more in details, we can find some remarkable overlaps between them. On Mount Sinai, for example, there was a loud sound like a trumpet, and fire. And then, we hear, at Pentecost, a sound like a violent wind and see tongues like fire. It’s very interesting that ‘wind and fire’ appear in these two events. These elements are some of the things we, human beings, find difficult to handle, as they are known to us as typical characteristics of divine presence.
While we see some similarities in these two events, we also need to notice that there is one very important difference between them. The difference is: when Moses went up to Mount Sinai, people were warned not to come near. God’s presence could only be encountered by Moses, or Moses and Aaron. In the Old Testament, only a few special people like Moses, Elijah, or Isaiah, could have access to the presence of God. All others were kept away. It was, in a sense, very hierarchical and discriminating. However, as we see from the Acts 2, no one is kept away. We are to see that the Holy Spirit did not just descend on Peter, or on Peter, James, and John, but it did descend upon all of the people gathered there. That is the beauty of this event. Nothing is secret or exclusive. Everything is open to everyone. We should remember that it is one of the vital elements, I can say, that runs through the gospel, although we still struggle to deal with it. To be honest, all sorts of Christian gatherings tend to easily fall into exclusivity: where some belong and others do not; where some feel themselves at the centre and others marginalised or unwelcome. In a sense, it may seem natural to form small cliques in any human society.
But, what we need to notice at the great event of Pentecost is that the Holy Spirit has broken down the boundaries, which separate the people who are in, and those who are out. The coming of the Spirit has flung wide the doors, declaring that all are welcome, and that no one is to keep away. Based on this, a new faith community, the Church is to be born, and the Body of Christ to be built up. Amen.
Holy Spirit, sent by the Father, ignite in us Your holy fire; strengthen Your people with the gift of faith, revive Your Church with the breath of love, and renew the face of the earth, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.