Signpost for Sunday 8th June, 2014, Pentecost: Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:24-34, 35b; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13; ; John 20:19-23
Seven weeks from Passover, celebrating the Exodus, to Shavu’ot, celebrating the giving of the Torah, by some considered to be the day on which Judaism was born. Seven weeks from the Resurrection to the giving of the Holy Spirit, the day on which the Christian Church was born. Our faith is overflowing with symbolism, and Pentecost is the most striking of them all.
At Mount Sinai the ten commandments were written on tablets of stone by the finger of God (Exodus 31:18), but on Mount Zion the Torah is written on tablets of the heart by the Spirit of God (2 Cor. 3:3, Hebrews 8:10). Just as the Israelites were confirmed as God’s chosen people on Shavu’ot with the coming of the Torah, so the Church was confirmed as God’s chosen people on Shavu’ot after Jesus’s ascension into heaven. And mighty visible and audible signs accompanied both events.
But, having become excited by the familiar symbolism I came across the salutary warning that one should not read the Old Testament only as a foreshadowing of the New. Rather, the Hebrew Scriptures should first be studied on their own terms in their own historical contexts, and it must be discerned that it is the same faithful God who is at work in both ages of salvation.
The Pentecost experience that we will celebrate with great joy and reverence on Sunday brings back to me the anxieties of the seventies when the manifestation of the Holy Spirit swept through the Church, turning lives and congregations around. The downside was that it seemed that unless one actually met with Jesus in a mountain-top experience, one’s faith was simply not legitimate. How many Life in the Spirit seminars were there? How many fearful and apparently unanswered prayers went “up”. No doubt I tried too hard – the desired moment is a gift and no amount of striving can achieve it. Better perhaps for some of us to go with the version of the giving of the Spirit that we read in our Gospel today, and to pay marked attention to the spiritual gifts outlined in the Corinthians reading. What a blessing our Lectionary can be.