May 31, 2020: Pentecost Sunday - Pastor’s Corner
On Pentecost Sunday, we celebrate the gift of the Spirit in our lives. In fact, in many ways, Pentecost is the birthday of the Church. Just as Christmas commemorates the birth of Christ, the Feast of Pentecost celebrates the moment when the Holy Spirit came to birth in the lives of Jesus’ disciples. Though the Gospel had been conceived in their hearts during Christ’s three years of preaching and healing, the disciples still needed encouragement in order to continue Jesus’ ministry. Just as Jesus retreated in the desert for 40 days to be tempted and prepared for his public ministry, so too the Resurrected Christ spends 40 days (from Easter Sunday to Ascension) with the disciples in order to prepare them to continue His work. This is clear when the disciples ask Jesus if and when He will restore the Kingdom of Israel. Jesus’ response makes clear that He will restore the Kingdom of God through their actions and ministry. In order for them to be empowered as witnesses, the disciples need the Holy Spirit. For it is through the Spirit that the life of Christ will animate their actions. Just as Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us, so too the Holy Spirit is the Advocate, God within us. For the disciples to be powerful witness, they need to be renewed by the Spirit living with them. So Jesus sends them to Jerusalem to wait and pray.
This moment of patient waiting comes in a particular context. Jerusalem was teeming with visitors and pilgrims who were gathered to celebrate the Jewish feast of Pentecost. Historically and theologically, Pentecost (or Shavu’ot) celebrates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. God frees Israel from spiritual bondage with the gift of a special covenant, seven weeks after escaping slavery in Egypt. Fifty days after ascending the mount, Moses descended Sinai with the 10 commandments. The gift of the 10 commandments was not simply a list of rules to follow, but constituted the covenant of which formed the Israelites to be a special people. Thus at Pentecost, the nation of Israel was born.
Pentecost morning found Jesus’ disciples gathered to celebrate this gift of covenant and wait for the Spirit whom Jesus had promised. And just as Moses ascended Mount Sinai in order to descend with the Torah, so, too, Christ ascended into heaven in order to send his Spirit of covenant. The Spirit’s fierce fiery flames forge the followers of Christ, forming them into a powerhouse of preaching. Ecstatically emboldened, Peter witnesses to the Gospel empowered with the gift of tongues. Speaking the “language of the Spirit,” all those who were gathered for the feast of Pentecost from difference places in the world were enlightened as the Spirit was enkindled in their hearts. The five thousand who were baptized on that day are the first of those who now tally more than 1.2 billion strong. Thus at Pentecost, the Church is born.
Today, we find ourselves in the midst of pandemic. We are waiting and hoping for the moment when we can return to public worship and begin to establish new ways of connecting with others. The insecurity and uncertainty of these days should not paralyze us, but rather, should be a moment when we open our hearts to the renewal of the Spirit in our lives. If the Holy Spirit could empower a few fishermen to preach a religious and cultural revolution of repentance and salvation in the face of persecution, we certainly can share our faith in the midst of pandemic. Like the original disciples, we are called to live from the Spirit within us: to speak a word of wisdom and counsel, understanding and encouragement. Just as the seven-fold gifts of the Spirit were conceived in the minds and hearts of the disciples at Pentecost, we ask the Spirit to come alive in our lives. Today, we pray to be born anew from the fire of the Spirit whose flame is kindled within us.