Scripture. Acts 2: 1-13, Pentecost. Nigel Bunce
Beginnings and endings characterize the Pentecost story. Pentecost begins the Christian era. It fulfils the ‘Jesus era’, which began with the prophesy of John the Baptist, and ended with Jesus’ Ascension.
Click this link for the recording of the ecumenical Pentecost Zoom service by the churches on the Guelph Line:
The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is one of the most exciting stories in the New Testament. The disciples were waiting in Jerusalem for something to happen. And there came a sound like a rushing wind. Not an actual wind. It was as if tongues of fire, not actual flames, rested upon each of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit. And they began to speak with such enthusiasm that even foreigners could understand their excitement.
Today, Pentecost has come to the churches of the Guelph Line
Let me paraphrase verses 5-8 of Acts Chapter 2. “Now there were Christians of every denomination living and worshipping on the Guelph Line. And they were astonished, because each one heard them speaking in their own language. Amazed, they asked, “How is it that we hear, each of us in our own language – Anglicans, Presbyterians, and United Church members?”
This is not a joke. This interdenominational service would not have been possible when I was young. Back then, we all lived and worshipped in our own denominational silos. We were suspicious of each other. Maybe Presbyterians looked askance at their daughters marrying Anglicans, but at least they weren’t Catholics!
COVID19 has given us wonderful opportunities to innovate in the midst of tragedy
Perhaps we could say that, “Necessity is the mother of invention” because our churches are closed by government order The inventive part of this service has been orchestrated with grateful thanks to Reuben, and with the aid of Zoom technology. Just to show you how we can use this technology, it seems that I am Zooming direct from St George’s Church. But actually, I am sitting in my office at home, with a “virtual background” of the church behind me. I’m amazed. But then, it’s Pentecost. I should be amazed.
I have often told the St George’s congregation that I am in awe of the Gospel writer Luke’s story-telling abilities. Many of us read Acts Chapter 1 last week. Right at the beginning, we learned that the author also wrote Luke’s Gospel. Luke’s Gospel is the story of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Acts is Book 2, what happened afterwards. If it weren’t for Luke, we would know nothing about the early history of the Christian era, including Pentecost.
Beginnings and endings
One beginning is that the disciples change from fearful people who ran away at the Crucifixion. Now they become bold ambassadors for Christ. At Pentecost, they graduated from being disciples – students. They became Apostles, who no longer needed Jesus to supervise them.
Pentecost as an ending book-ends the start of the Gospel story. John the Baptist had said [Luke 3: 16], “I baptize you with water, but one who will come after me will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” Today , the prophesy reaches its fulfilment [Acts 2; 3-4]. “Divided tongues, as if of fire, rested upon them. And all were filled with the Holy Spirit.” Luke clearly wants us to understand how Pentecost fulfils Jesus’ earthly ministry.
Another sense of fulfilment is that the disciples – and all those other Jews from around the eastern Mediterranean – were in Jerusalem for Shavuot, which celebrates the barley harvest. It fulfilled the planting that had taken place at Passover. We Christians call this day Pentecost, which is 50 days since the Resurrection. It symbolically fulfils the life and work of Jesus on the earth.
The Tower of Babel
If we reach further back into Scripture, we find another pair of beginnings and endings. The Tower of Babel story [Genesis 11] is a mythological explanation for why people speak different languages. It imagines early humans trying to reach God by building a tower up to heaven. The writers of Genesis could not imagine God allowing mortals to do such a thing. They believed that God put a stop to that idea by giving people different languages. Then they couldn’t understand each other.
Pentecost overturns the Tower of Babel story. “How is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?”[Acts 2: 8]. It makes Pentecost into a kind of parable. In the community of Christians at its best, we have a coming together. Today is a pointer. Anglicans, Presbyterians and United Church members understand each other, as if we all spoke the same doctrinal language. As we shall sing later, “We are one in the Spirit.”
More beginnings and endings: is Pentecost the birthday of the Church?
A final thought. Although people often call Pentecost the “birthday” of the Church, I see it a bit differently. It is the beginning of the Christian era. The words of John the Baptist opened the ‘Jesus’ era (not the Christian era). The Jesus era closed with the Ascension, when the earthly Jesus left the disciples for the final time
Pentecost opened the ‘Christian’ era, but not the ‘Church’ era. The Church is an organization that features leaders, that we call priests, minsters, pastors etc. It is usually hierarchical and often patriarchal. It teaches doctrines like that of the Holy Trinity. We don’t find any of that stuff in the final part of today’s Scripture reading. That’s why I think that Pentecost is really the birthday of the Christian era, not the birthday of the Church.