Pentecost this year falls during the half term holidays and brings an end to Eastertide fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection. The word Pentecost originates from the Greek Pentekoste which means fiftieth and was actually a Jewish feast day that celebrated the covenant between God and his people. As I mentioned last week when referencing the Ascension passage about ‘going out to all nations’ (Acts 1:11), Jesus spent so much of his ministry trying to explain to everyone that God loved everyone, that God was giving up Jesus for all humanity. Jesus says “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6), when he prays he does so for complete unity of the world “I pray that they may all be one, Father. May they be one so that the world may believe that you sent me.” (John 17:20,22). This is so important to mention because when Jesus send the Holy Spirit to the disciples, he did so on that Jewish feast of Pentekoste, reaffirming the message that God’s covenant was not just for the people of Israel but the covenant was with the whole world, and now it was for the disciples to go out and make it their mission to do exactly that.
The scripture scholar Fr Denis Mcbride goes on to explain the significance of this even more:
On Pentecost God renews his covenant with his people through the power of the Spirit. In that power the apostle speak a new word to all those people from unpronounceable places. All the places mark out the reaches of the Roman Empire; all the people are Jews who come to celebrate this important feast. For Luke (writing the account in Acts) it is the feast of the Holy Spirit, when all these people are offered a new opportunity to renew their relationship with God. It is a time for a new beginning, a time of new creation. Through the Spirit a whole new life is possible.”
The reference to all the places in the Roman empire which Fr Denis makes, forms one of my absolute favourite passages in the entire Bible – Acts 2 in its entirety. As the author lists off all these places from where people are amazed that the apostles are speaking to them in their own native language, you then have the accusation that the apostles are drunk. I’ve never come across many people, or anyone, who is able to discover the fluency of another language through alcohol.
So in response begins the most impressive and impassioned speech to the gathering, which begins with a rebuke worthy of the drunken accusations “These people are not drunk, as you suppose; it is only 9 o’clock in the morning” (Acts 2:15). He then goes on to teach them about who Jesus really was, how he fulfilled the messianic prophecies and has now sent his Spirit upon the apostles but also offered it to each and every person gathered there in the crowd. He validates everything by quoting the scriptures expertly, starting off with the prophet Joel:
“This is what I will do in the last days, God says:
I will pour out my Spirit on everyone.
Your sons and daughters will proclaim my message;
your young men will see visions,
and your old men will have dreams.
Yes, even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will proclaim my message.” (Joel 2:28-29)
Then goes on to quote David in the Psalms, explaining that God would not leave the Messiah in the grave but would raise him up to sit at his right hand in heaven, and tells the onlookers “What you now see and hear is his gift that he has poured out on us.” ( Acts 2:33). The profound witness and working of the Spirit that took place through Peter on that day culminates in an incredible conversion to Christianity, Baptisms on a grand scale. You may have been in Church when several baptisms of babies have taken place, how loving and joy filled the atmosphere is, now just imagine what it must have been like after Peter persuaded 3000 of them to be baptised there and then!
“Many of them believed his message and were baptized, and about three thousand people were added to the group that day. They spent their time in learning from the apostles, taking part in the fellowship, and sharing in the fellowship meals and the prayers.” (Acts 41-42).
So how does that apply to us here and now in our bubbles, in 2020? I once read an interesting reflection on Pentecost about two pieces of blue glass:
Once upon a time there were two little pieces of blue glass stuck to a wall. They were tired of being glued there, in that uncomfortable and humid place. Continually complaining, one to the other, they reached a decision. They would unstick themselves from the wall and go down to the floor. Someone would surely find them there and give them a better purpose.
Thus, they wiggled free and were able to slide down to the cool floor. The next day, a man was sweeping zealously and, not seeing them there, tossed them in the rubbish bin. But, as he sat down and gazed towards the wall to pray his customary morning prayer, he realized that in the beautiful mosaic of Jesus he was so familiar with, the two blue eyes were missing.
Before unpicking the relevance of this reflection, I apologise for the artwork depicting Jesus with blue eyes, I get a bit of a bee in my bonnet over fair skin, blue eyes versions of Mary and Jesus. The reality is that a middle eastern man would most likely have had darker eyes, but blue must work well for this. Regarding the meaning of the above, maybe we don’t always appreciate the role we have in showing Christ to other people, or how much other people look to us for direction, meaning or inspiration? Like the pieces of glass we might not always be able to see the beauty we radiate to those around us, or appreciate what we have to offer. Indeed there are times when we aim to set a good example, when we are making a concerted effort to lead the way and bring the best out of students, children, peers and family. But when we switch off and the true nature of who we are is exposed, when we are tempted to be self-loathing or dismissive of ourselves, that is when we require a way of looking outwards in. Dimensions of our lives we will almost certainly never know.
I often meditate on how strange it is that there are people in parts of the world who have no idea that their words, stories and reflections inspire this random Chaplain in a Somerset school. There is a female deacon is an Australian Christian Church who has gotten my creative juices flowing and given me some of the best worship resources by posting on her blog. I’m sure to many of you, there are people you would call role models, an inspiration, but there’s next to no chance you’ll ever meet them. Are we all at some point a piece of blue glass? Don’t we all go up and down, have peaks of positive action and working well, whilst also fighting inward battles and occasionally struggling? I’d even argue that those lows are able to be an outward expression of the Spirit too.
Fr Gaetano Piccolo, on Catholic-link, interprets the meditation by looking at how the Holy Spirit brings the best out of us at every opportunity in our lives.
In a certain sense, Pentecost is the feast in which we rediscover the meaning of our lives. The Spirit brings us clarity. The Spirit helps the disciples rediscover the meaning of their path. The breath of the Holy Spirit is the same breath that hovers over the waters during creation. The Spirit thus reminds us of the origin and the meaning of our lives. Whenever we live, God has made an alliance with us; He reaches out to us and He does not leave us. This is the Good News that the Spirit comes to remind us of. It is confusion that distorts and confounds these words. The confusion confounds us not only in our relationship with God, but in all of our human relationships. That is why the Holy Spirit comes to bend our rigid thoughts, our dark obsessions, and our closed-mindedness. The Spirit comes to warm our cold-heartedness, to shake off our harsh feelings, and to overcome the fear to love again. The Spirit reminds us who we are. If we were those two little pieces of blue glass, the Spirit would probably remind us of our beauty, the joy we can give to others, and the tenderness with which we were shaped.”
It is now for us this Pentecost to explore and discover how that same Spirit works in us and amplify the fruits of the spirit. Let us look around and recognise the work of the Spirit in other people and truly appreciate that difference is a gift to be cherished. The spirit works in different ways in different people, but the lesson of Pentecost from that day when the apostles rediscovered their vocation, is that we are all pieces of a greater picture, different but equal, valued and cherished, and invited into an eternal covenant with our creator God.
Mr M Robinson