The Solemnity of Pentecost
Two snakes were slithering along through a field when one snake turned to the other and asked, ” Do you suppose we’re poisonous snakes?”
” I don’t know”, replied the other, “Why?”
“Well”, said the first snake, “I just bit my lip.”
Pentecost has nothing to do with biting our lips! In fact, it’s the exact opposite! It’s about not keeping our lips closed and telling everyone, everywhere about the Good News of Jesus Christ. Alleluia! It’s about recognizing God present in our midst and getting excited about God’s invitation to us to participate in his evangelical mission of spreading faith in the Risen Lord and sharing God’s love and joy with anyone who will listen! Alleluia!
The Christian feast of Pentecost can trace its beginnings to the Jewish tradition. The Old Testament records that it took the Jews escaping slavery, precisely seven weeks or 49 days, to travel from Egypt to the foot of Mount Sinai. Then on the fiftieth day, Moses received the Ten Commandments from God —hence the name Pentecost, (or fifty days) became known for the giving of the Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai, fifty days after their liberation from slavery. Pentecost later became synonymous with Shavuot, an annual commemoration when Jews would give of the first fruits of their harvests to God at the Temple in Jerusalem, before it was destroyed, in gratitude for God having given them His Divine Word for nourishment and strength in their sojourn through the desert to the promised land.
But not all the Jews who were present in the desert were as receptive to God’s word as Moses would have liked. We’re told that when he came down from Mount Sinai and saw the discontent of the Jewish people and the golden calf they had created for worship, Moses became angry, shattered the stone tablets of the Law on the ground, and commanded, that “each man strap a sword to his side and go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other
— each killing his brother, friend, and neighbor as a punishment for the people’s infidelity.’ Exodus 32:27 records that, on that day, three thousand men were killed.
Keep this in mind as we fast forward to the New Testament account of Jesus, who, after his resurrection, but before ascending into heaven forty days later, promised to send his faithful followers the Holy Spirit. True to his promise, the Holy Spirit descends upon the disciples and Mary fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection. But unlike the infidelity of the wandering Jewish nation in the desert, the gift of the Holy Spirit empowered Jesus’ disciples and Mary in the upper room to proclaim the Word of God with boldness, courage, and conviction! The Acts of the Apostles in fact, records Peter preaching to the crowds in these words: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” The passage then poignantly records, “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.”
And so, the three thousand who were unfaithful in the desert were replaced by the three thousand who had come to faith in the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. Consequently, the Christian celebration of Pentecost, besides marking the dramatic coming of the Holy Spirit upon Christ’s faithful, is also seen by Christians as the ultimate fulfillment of the Jewish nations’ prayer for liberation and salvation.
Indeed, God guided the Jewish nation to life through the giving of the Ten Commandments. So perhaps it’s not at all coincidental that God the Father would later send the Living Word of God from Heaven, in the Person of Jesus Christ, to make God’s free gift of salvation— real, convincing, and lasting for all.
In a similar vein, it’s worthy to note that modern-day Jews celebrate Shavuot by staying up all night long to study the Torah and to receive God’s presence in His divine word. —Just like we’re told that Jesus, before ascending into Heaven, instructs his disciples and Mary to pray for the coming of the Holy Spirit. And they do just that, all night long when suddenly, the room where they’re praying is filled with a violent wind and divided tongues of fire come to rest upon them all. And scripture records, “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:4)
It’s that seal with the Holy Spirit, who brings boldness and ability to speak in the name of Christ, that Roman Catholic teens celebrate in the Sacrament of Confirmation, much like young teen Reform Jews, who have already celebrated their B’nei Mitzvah, and who continue to study the Torah, celebrate the receiving of the Torah in a celebration also called Confirmation, held on or near the feast of Shavuot.
What does all this mean for us today? It means we’ve been blessed with fifty days to celebrate the awesome ways God has intervened in human history and showered his immeasurable blessings upon us! Easter Season is deliberately longer than the Lenten Season because God’s grace is always more powerful than any human sin ever could be. On this fiftieth day of the Easter Season, we’re challenged to count our blessings, because like the Jews and Christians who’ve gone before us, we indeed have much to be grateful for! We’ve been blessed with the Holy Word of God, which has the power to transform our lives and to convert hardened sinners to God’s saving message! We’ve been blessed with a God who wants us to see how much he loves us, by taking on human form and living among us as our Emmanuel! We’ve been blessed with the creation of a holy people, chosen by God and covenanted to him to be a light for all nations!
We’ve been blessed with an outpouring of so many gifts and talents—-our modern-day first fruits— which we’re invited to share with the whole world in order to make this world more like the Kingdom of God and to bring God greater glory in the process! We’ve been blessed with a God who knows us through-and-through and who, despite our sinfulness, dies and rises from the dead, to atone for our sins. We’re blessed with a God who never leaves us, a God who guides us every moment of every day, and who dwells in our hearts and is there whenever we need Him. We’ve been blessed with the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit to bring our world, closer to God’s original vision and plan for us all! Indeed, it’s the Holy Spirit of God who urges us to unite with our brothers and sisters around the globe, in working to establish common ground with respect to human dignity, stewardship of creation, and an acknowledgment of fundamental, universal human rights. The Holy Spirit further urges us on, to share our faith in the Risen Lord with those who have yet to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and to demonstrate, by our actions, the incomparable, generous love of our God for each and every person. Yes, it can’t be denied! We’ve been blessed by the coming of the Holy Spirit into our lives, both individually and as a church, in so many ways! May we always cherish and celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit among us and in the life of the church, this day and every day, with gratitude and joy! Alleluia!
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