Pentecost: The Birthday of the Church
When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. – Acts 2:1-2
We can imagine what it might have been like in that upper room where the Apostles had gathered in the days after the Ascension. They were together, but we can imagine that they were still befuddled. They knew they had a mission, but had no clue as to how to begin. They must have been afraid as well. We can understand that. After all, the authorities had crucified Jesus and they knew that those same authorities were keen to be rid of whatever followers still remained.
The atmosphere in that upper room must have been tense. We can imagine the Apostles and some of the women, somber and silent, gathered in small groups, speaking in whispers to each other. One or two of them might have sat apart, lost in their own thoughts. They had not given up hope, we can be sure of that. They knew that Jesus was, in fact, the Messiah. But they did not have his comforting, encouraging presence among them any more. They had seen him taken up into Heaven only a few short days before. He had promised them, then, that he would not leave them alone, that he would send them an Advocate, who would teach them the truth about everything. But we can imagine them full of apprehension as they huddled together there in that upper room, listening to the babbling crowds of people in the streets below their shuttered windows.
Then, in the quiet of mid-morning they heard a sudden noise like a strong, driving wind that somehow entered and filled the room they were in. And just as suddenly, tongues as of fire appeared. The flaming tongues split and came to rest on each of their heads. What must it have felt like? They must have gasped with surprise then, just as suddenly, did they feel as if their hearts would burst, as if their whole being had been filled up to overflowing. The Advocate had come! The Holy Spirit had entered that room and entered them and they could not contain it.
There were devout Jews from every nation in Jerusalem at the time. They, too, had heard this strange noise and had begun to gather in their numbers around the house the Apostles were in. So taken by the Spirit, the Apostles had rushed out onto the balconies of the house and began preaching the Good News to all the peoples. The people were confused because they could hear these men speaking in their own languages. These men that were speaking to them were known to be Galileans. And, dear Lord, the things that they heard from the mouths of the Apostles. They were being told of all the mighty acts of God, of all that he had done in Jesus. They were hearing it in the clarity and the tenor and the rhythms of their own languages. They were hearing it so clearly and were feeling its force so profoundly that many became followers of Jesus that day. The Church was born!!!
All that had gone before: the birth of the Messiah in a lowly stable in Bethlehem, the Baptism of Jesus by John in Jordan’s flow, the three years of public ministry, the arrest, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, and the Ascension, had led up to this moment. The Son of God who had come among us and shown us the Father and the infinite love he has for us had done everything that was necessary and now he was passing the duties of telling the good news of God’s love on to his Apostles.
The Church, as we know, is the Body of Christ in the world today and has been so since that fiery, ecstatic morning in Jerusalem so long ago now. Each of us now, by our baptisms, are members of that body and are commissioned by the Holy Spirit to speak the Good News to the world. Not all of us have been gifted by the Holy Spirit with the gift of preaching. We are not all called to the ministries. But we are all gifted by the Holy Spirit with some unique gift, and we are called to use those gifts to be Christ’s hands, touching others through our compassionate care and concern, our freely offered forgiveness and our everyday, practical, loving service to them.
There is a deep truth hidden in the events of that day too. The very fact that every Jew, no matter what country he or she was from, no matter what language he or she spoke, heard the same unique and singular message testifies to the Oneness of God and of the Good News. The message was the same to each person who heard the words spoken by the Apostles that day. It made no difference that they spoke different languages. The message was one and the same. The Church that was born that day was one, just as God is one. It was fired by the one, whole and holy truth of God. It was not compartmentalized to suit the different languages and cultures represented there. The Church was one because all men and women are sons and daughters of the One God. The truth of God transcends all of the accidental differences of place, of time, of language, of culture. It is one and the same for all of God’s children at all times and in all places.
Sadly, the Church today is divided and broken into so many competing sects and denominations. It would not be recognized by the Apostles. They who went to all the nations, even to the Gentiles, no longer were bound by the artificial human barriers of Jew or Greek, male or female, slave of free. They understood that God made no distinctions, but more importantly, they knew that God’s love could not be divided, or claimed, or hoarded by any one person or group. That the Church is so divided today is a scandal of monumental proportions. It is sinful. Yet, God has not abandoned us. He is still calling us to be one with him and with one another. God does not change. It is we who are called to change, to let go of our prides, our egos, the solitary claims of particular groups, or cultures. All of that is as nothing in the grand economy of God and his eternal paradise.
Christians, we are called to be one in Christ. Let us pray, then, that we be given the graces we need to break down the walls that so pettily divide us from one another. Let us not compete with one another, but cooperate with one another in the singular mission of preaching the Good News of Jesus the Christ with one accord. Let us no longer say only with our lips that we are brothers and sisters in Christ, but let us be brothers and sisters in Christ so clearly and so lovingly that this profoundly divided world will want to be one with us, sharing equally in what we have with one another.
The one and only Church was born at Pentecost. There is no other. Let us, then, be one in the Body of Christ. That is God’s desire, let it be ours. Thanks be to God!