23 May 2010

Acts 2:1-11

"When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting ... At this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speak in the native language of each." (v.1-2, 6)


The Holy Spirit's arrival at Pentecost is not a private event - it simultaneously involves a public venue and public accountability.

The disciples find themselves out on the streets of Jerusalem, in the presence of Jews "from every nation under heaven". And how the streets of Jerusalem would have thronged as the pilgrims celebrated Pentecost - the great Jewish festival which was observed 50 days after Passover (commemorating the freeing of the Israelites from Egypt - Exodus 12). The pilgrims had come from all over the known world to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem and they had stayed on for the 50 days.

Pentecost is usually identified with the Feast of Weeks of Exodus 23:16. Although originally an agricultural festival, by the time that the Gospel-writer Luke was composing his book, the Feast of Weeks had come to be a commemoration of the giving of the Ten Commandments to Moses (Exodus 20). In the Jewish rabbinic tradition, at the giving of the Law, all the nations of the world were offered an opportunity to accept God's revelation. According to the Jewish philosopher Philo it was accompanied by signs of fire and spirit!

Likewise with the descending Spirit of Pentecost, the gospel (good news of Jesus) announced by the disciples is universal; it is heard by representatives of the whole world and is accompanied by signs of fire and wind. The miraculous events prompted a divided response, as gospel proclamations continue to do. Some observers were "amazed and astonished" at what it might mean, while others offered the more pedestrian interpretation that the believers were drunk. Into such a context, the Apostle Peter speaks of the mighty deeds of God.

To Ponder

The arrival of the Spirit is not a private event, but simultaneously involves a public venue and public accountability. Think about what this says about the Church's relationship with the wider world. To what extent must the Church's ministry in the community, as part of our Spirit-led mission, stand up to the scrutiny of the world at large?

How do we, as people of faith, engage in conversation with our communities on spiritual things? How do we, like Peter, speak of the mighty deeds of God to a largely disinterested society? Have you tried it? What happened?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Adrian Burdon

The Revd Dr Adrian Burdon is Superintendent Minister of the Shaw & Royton Circuit in the Manchester & Stockport District. Adrian has been a presbyter since 1988 and, in addition to urban Lancashire, has worked on the Fylde Coast, in Leeds City Centre, the North East of England and as a mission partner in the South Pacific. Adrian is Chair of the CTBI Writing group which writes material for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and serves on the liturgical subcommittee of the Methodist Church.