(Acts, Chapter Two)
I’m going to be looking at this story out of order since the feast of Pentecost will be this Sunday – normal service will be resumed next week, when I try and fit the Exodus into one post.
The first thing to mention is that there are two festivals, both known as Pentecost. At the time of the story below, the crowds gathered in Jerusalem were there to celebrate Shavu’ot, the Jewish Festival of Weeks (also known as Pentecost) which occurs fifty days after the Passover and celebrates the giving of The Torah. When the Christian church began memorialising the events below, they kept the name ‘Pentecost’ but the festival itself is very different – not least, because it celebrates the giving of the Holy Spirit rather than the Books of Law.
Our story begins fifty days after the events of Easter weekend. The remaining disciples are meeting together in Jerusalem, following Jesus’s being taken back into Heaven – they have just elected a replacement for Judas Iscariot but are otherwise not up to much and are following Jesus’s instructions to “wait for what the Father promised.” It’s fair to say that they’re probably feeling a bit sorry for themselves – Jesus has been taken away from them for the second time in as many months, and there doesn’t seem to be much to hope for but they’re not so afraid that they’ve hidden themselves away from the world entirely.
Then, with a sound of rushing wind and the appearance of burning fires resting on them, everything changed! The Holy Spirit, the promised helper, arrived and they all started speaking in different languages as prompted by the Spirit. This hubbub was heard by the crowds gathered for Shavu’ot – devout Jews from all over the world (*1) – who came and heard what the disciples were saying, “each in their own language” – to much consternation and joking about them being already drunk.
Peter takes this opportunity to tell the crowd the story of Jesus and his death and resurrection, many of them become Christians and the Early Church is born – meeting together and growing in number in a state of harmony that seems too good to last. It is.
*1 – the tongue-twisting list of nations and races annually causes problems for people reading this passage in church…