Pentecost means fifty – seven weeks plus one day – fifty days after Easter.
The Jews called it Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks, the feast of the Harvest, or the feast of the First Fruits. Whatever way we look at this feast it denotes the end of a period of waiting and the fulfillment of something hoped and worked for. For the Jews it was the first fruits of the harvest, for the Christian it is much the same, the harvest of the great work of Christ – the first fruit of his passion, death and resurrection – the Holy Spirit.
It’s a lesson for us Christians that there is a Christian way to wait – waiting, as the apostles did – waiting in prayer, with our hearts and minds directed towards our waiting.
Finally the fiftieth day came round and – the Apostles had all met in one room. This is significant, important. Some people don’t worry about gathering with fellow believers; they say ‘we don’t need to come to church to pray’. It’s like saying ‘I don’t need to come to your birthday party to rejoice for you’ or ‘I don’t need to come to your sister’s funeral to pray for her’.
Ok. No comment! If that’s where you’re at – no comment!
The Apostles, however, did gather – and so did Jesus. They gathered in the synagogue every Sabbath with the rest of the Jews. They found it very important, essential even, to do so and so do millions of Catholics today, every Sunday, without fail.
As a matter of fact, the very word for church has its origins in the Hebrew word for gathering – the gathered-together. That’s what it means to be a member of the Church. It means that we gather. Our religion is not a solitary one. There are no solitary Christians. We are the People of God and we gather to worship him together.
So, the Apostles had all met in one room when the Holy Spirit came.
Eleven Apostles – one room – very important. It was when they met in one room, when they met in unity, in oneness of heart and mind that the Holy Spirit came.
Suddenly they heard what sounded like a powerful wind from heaven, the noise of which filled the entire house in which they were sitting..
The noise of the wind filled the entire house. They were sitting in one room but the noise of the wind filled the entire house. What do you make of this? What is Luke trying to tell us? Makes us think of Mary who brought in a pound of very costly ointment, pure nard, and with it anointed the feet of Jesus, wiping them with her hair (John 12:3). We are told: the house was full of the scent of the ointment.
It says simply – the Holy Spirit, like costly perfume, the perfume of true love, cannot be confined to one room. It reaches out and touches the whole house. Indeed, Jesus promised that the story of this love would be told throughout all the world (Mark 13:9).
So, the Holy Spirit came when they gathered as one, in one room, and the ‘noise’ filled the whole house – could we read the whole Church?
And what was the first effect of this noise of the Holy Spirit?
At this sound they all assembled …
Isn’t it marvelous? The first effect of the Holy Spirit coming to those gathered is to go on gathering – from all parts of Jerusalem, men from every nation under heaven. Surely it is now obvious to us that the gathering of Christians is a work of the Holy Spirit? God wants it that way and when we resist the gathering we are resisting the Holy Spirit.
The apostles hear the noise of what seems like a powerful wind from heaven and then – something appeared to them that seemed like tongues of fire; these separated and came to rest on the head of each of them.
The Holy Spirit gives itself to each one of the apostles individually. This is so wonderful. He may come to all but everything is individual, personal. He comes to rest on the head of each of them – Peter’s head, John’s head, James’ head, Andrew’s head … and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak foreign languages as the Spirit gave them the gift of speech.
The gift of speech – this was the first of the Spirit’s gifts.
We need to remember that the Holy Spirit which came upon the apostles is the same Holy Spirit which overshadowed the Blessed Virgin Mary and formed the Word of God in her womb. In her the Word became flesh and now, in the apostles, the Word becomes speech. Jesus, the Word of God, is himself the Good News the apostles begin to preach.
The Holy Spirit makes sense only to spiritual people. It is no accident that John records only that ‘devout men’, that is, spiritual men, assembled at the sound of the Spirit’s coming. Is this because they alone heard the noise of the mighty wind of the Spirit or because they alone, like Moses and the burning bush were moved to investigate? We are told they were ‘bewildered’, ‘amazed’ and ‘astonished’ at the great miracle they witnessed.
Each one heard them speaking in his own native language while the apostles were given the gift of speaking many languages. Here again we see that the work of the Holy Spirit is unity, bringing all together into the oneness of the one Gospel, spoken in many languages, but always the same Word.
The strange thought strikes me that the apostles were very much like that burning bush which confronted Moses. They too were ‘on fire’ and they too were not consumed. As from the burning bush the word of God was spoken to Moses, so too, the Word of God came, and still comes, through the preaching of the apostles. Each one of us is invited, like Moses, to ‘turn aside’ and hear this word of God, and be converted.