21 June 2022Acts 2:1-13
All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. (v. 4) 'And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?' (v. 8) All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, 'What does this mean?' (v.12)
Scripture testifies in a unified voice that the one God – of Sarah and Abraham, of the prophets, of Jesus Christ, of the Early Church – is a God who moves in the world. God is never static but always active, sometimes within the natural order of things but sometimes interrupting and even breaking that order, as in God’s raising Jesus from the dead.
Today's passage describes the Day of Pentecost, when the early community of Christian disciples gathering in Jerusalem experienced God breaking into their lives in a powerful, though initially confusing way. 'Pentecost' in the passage’s original Greek means '50th'. Fifty days after Passover, Jerusalem was filled with faithful Jews on pilgrimage for the Jewish Festival of Weeks. The Church – remembering how the Holy Spirit poured out among the early disciples but also radiated out to be noticed by people of diverse religious and cultural backgrounds in Jerusalem – celebrates Pentecost 50 days after Easter.
Within the house that the passage mentions but also around it, outside, as others participated, the Spirit moved and manifested in a multi-sensory fashion: in a sound like wind; in visions of fire; in perhaps an embodied sense of being filled; in 'foreign' languages simultaneously uttered and translated. While traditional interpretations of this story centre on the miracle of people speaking in different languages, some writers (such as Eric HF Law and Walter Wink) have noticed in the text an equally important miracle of hearing, listening or receiving. This dimension of the spiritual encounter leads the diverse Pentecost gathering to an ensuing amazement and wonder – not to a consolidating or complete answer, but to a bigger question: “What does this mean?”
As the contemporary Church receives and wrestles with the Holy Spirit’s offer of profound transformation (both for the world and for the Church), the story of Pentecost signals that, while human action and effort are part of discipleship, an openness to undergoing God, receiving difference, and encountering otherness are all essential to a maturing life of faith. Furthermore, this openness is not a vaguely innocuous posture but a vibrant expectancy that will have implications for the way the Church surrenders and stewards power, seeks justice, practises testimony and evangelism, and offers praise and worship to the Living God.
- Transformation happens through encounter with God and with others. Do we actually expect God to show up and move in our relationships and our rituals?
- Ask a friend (of any faith or no faith) to share with you a spiritual experience they have had; and then share with them a spiritual experience that’s happened to you. What differences do you notice? Any similarities?
- What does the 'miracle of speaking' and the 'miracle of receiving God's Spirit' mean for the Church’s mission and ministry?
O Thou who camest from above
the fire celestial to impart,
kindle a flame of sacred love
on the mean altar of my heart! Amen. (from the hymn by Charles Wesley)