Signpost for Sunday May 24 2015: Acts 2:1-21 or Ezek 37:1-14; Ps 104:24-34,35b;Rom 8:22-27; or Acts 2:1-21; John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15
So much relates back to the Passover. Even the Feast we call Pentecost relates back to the Passover. Pentecost is fifty days after the Passover. And the number fifty itself is related to the Passover. It is a week of weeks – seven times seven days, plus one. In the Law, as interpreted after the return from the Exile, the liberation from Egypt that came with the first Passover was to be handed on even to the slaves within Israel. Every fifty years all slaves were to be freed. That is the original meaning of the word, “Jubilee”. So the fifty comes in various places, such as Lent.
However, the special feast that came fifty days after the Passover was the Spring Harvest Festival of the First Fruits. God comes first, so the first fruits belong to God. We do our Harvest Festival differently (when we remember to do it at all) and offer the best from the most abundant part of the harvest, or perhaps towards the end. Are we more cautious? But the offering is the most important part.
So Pentecost is a harvest. But the details are obscure and confusing. John seems to say that the Spirit was given on the evening of the first day of the week after the Crucifixion. Luke has a different chronology.
Then again, some accounts of the coming of the Spirit seem to be talking about glossalalia – speaking in sounds that seem to be words, but which do not always make sense to those present, a common experience in many religions. For Luke/Acts it becomes something quite different. By the Spirit the disciples speak in their broad northern Galilean-accented Aramaic and the crowd hear them in their own tongues – instant translation facilities we might term it today.
The picture that I have in my mind of the early Church is of earnest students of the word. By the word I mean the scriptures that we call the Old Testament. By early I do not mean the years immediately after the crucifixion, but those times when things were beginning to be written down. There is a gap here because the first generation mostly believed that the times were so short that there was no point in writing things down. Then Paul and others began writing letters; and experience of being scattered throughout the Roman world meant that some gathered up sayings of Jesus and other little lists. And being driven out of Jerusalem by the Roman invasion and destruction was the last straw.
So they looked back on what they could remember, and they also looked back on the scriptures; and they interpreted their memory of events to fit their understanding of the sacred writings, sometimes regarding them as predictions about their own times.
For them the later portions of Isaiah were there in order to make sense of the Cross. Ezekiel’s skeletons were there to show how the dead church after the shock of Jesus’ death could come alive and spread to the whole Roman world.
Pentecost celebrates the way the Church burst into life out of despair, and the way that the indwelling Spirit gives the gift or first fruits of the Spirit to the believers and transforms them.