Readings for May 27, Pentecost Sunday
Acts 2:1-11; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13; John 20:19-23
Pentecost Sunday commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Christ’s disciples, 50 days after his Resurrection. Pentecost is often called “the birthday of the Church.” On this day, with the descent of the Holy Spirit, Christ’s mission is completed, and the New Covenant is inaugurated.
It’s interesting to note that this took place on the ancient Jewish festival called the ‘”feast of weeks” or Pentecost which occurred 50 days after the Passover and celebrated the end of the barley harvest, plus the beginning of the wheat harvest. The Jewish people also celebrate the giving of the law to Moses and the sealing of the Old Covenant on Mount Sinai.
Benedict XVI explains that it also underlines in dramatic fashion the church’s universality and foreshadowed her future move from Jerusalem to Rome, in those days regarded as capital of the known world.
Christ had promised the Apostles that he would send the Holy Spirit, and on Pentecost they were granted the gifts of the Spirit which would empower them to spread the Good News to the four corners of the world. This was evident as the Apostles began to preach the Gospel in the various languages spoken by the Jews gathered there for the Jewish festival from different parts of the Roman Empire. We are told about 3,000 people were converted and baptized that day.
One wonders what the Apostles said that brought about such a conversion experience for so many people. They simply told their stories. The stories of how they experienced Jesus with them on earth; the miracles they witnessed, the lessons he taught, and his death and resurrection. Many times we don’t think we have the skills or knowledge to spread God’s Word but if we look at the Apostles we can clearly understand that it’s in the sharing of our stories in which the Holy Spirit moves.
If we are truly celebrating Pentecost as the birthday on the church, it will carry the additional inner meaning that each person is called to mature in his or her spiritual life. Maturity is generally learned rather than instinctive and requires an effort on our part.
St Paul is teaching the people of Corinth what it means to be mature Christians. We learn a lot about the members of these early house churches as we read Paul’s writings. They came from different social backgrounds. They did not necessarily lead lives that would traditionally be qualified as saintly. There seemed to be a diversity of gifts present among them and because of this diversity, there seemed to have been some talk among the Corinthians about whose gift was best.
Paul is careful to clarify that it is the same spirit that acts in everyone. Paul hoped his letter would lead to healed divisions and reestablished unity so that the Corinthians would more fully manifest Christ in their communal life.
This Pentecost Sunday, let us remember that the Spirit is at work in each of us, that the Spirit has given different gifts to each of us, that these gifts can and should be celebrated, but more importantly used for the building up of the kingdom because they are given by the Spirit, not to create division but unity, for we are the community of God.
As we celebrate this wonderful feast, let us reflect on our individual and communal gifts and acknowledge where the Holy Spirit is present in our life together.
Kathleen Ebner is a member of St. Jude the Apostle Parish in Lewes, where she serves as a spiritual director and catechist.