Concerning Pentecost

שבועות or Πεντηκοστή or

The Feast of Weeks

“Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Gospel of Matthew 5:17

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues, as the spirit gave them utterance.”

“And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in his own language, and they were amazed and wondered saying, Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear each of us in his own native language?”  Book of Acts 1:15

“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God, all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. Gospel of John 1:1

We Christians are about to celebrate the Feast of Pentecost with special liturgies and activities on Sunday May 20th.   Pentecost is a feast coming some fifty days after Easter and is for Christians the celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Holy Trinity and some say it also commemorates the birth of the Christian Church.  And as chronicled in the portion of the Book of Acts quoted above, the Spirit came upon a group composed of the Apostles and “devout men” (and presumably women) who were assembled together in what many believe was the same room in which the “Last Supper” was celebrated (the Upper Room).   And, the Spirit came upon them with a sound like a mighty wind and appeared as tongues of fire coming to rest on the heads of the Apostles.

Interestingly the passage in the Book of Acts begins “When the day of Pentecost had come…” so it would seem that the day of Pentecost was not an invention of the newly born Christian Church but rather  a part of the larger Jewish heritage of those present in the assembly.  In Judaism it has come down to us in the form of the a celebration called the Feast of Weeks, or Shavuot.  The Shavuot celebration has a twofold purpose: (1) to mark and celebrate the giving of the Law (the Ten Commandments) to the people of Israel assembled at Mount Sinai over three thousand years ago, and (2) the conclusion of the harvest time in Israel which lasted seven weeks starting in Passover. It is pious Jewish legend (per Rabbi Mark Dov Shapiro) that when the Commandments were presented to the assembled people of Israel there were those present who spoke different languages but who, like those present in the Acts story, understood, in his own native tongue, the words spoken by Moses and others as the scrolls were presented. .

We Christians refer to Jesus as the “word made flesh”.   We see him as the living breathing embodiment of the Law and his life, death, resurrection, and ascension as gifts from God given to cement the “reconciliation” of God and man – a new covenant based not on following the laws of the Commandments but rather following the living witness of Jesus.

It is manifestly clear that the chronicle of the coming of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles and others on the day of Pentecost represents more than just an odd coincidence.  I would pose the question of whether for Christians the arrival of the Law and the arrival of the Holy Spirit are acts which are interwoven theologically in such a way that to understand the one you must also understand the other.

This year Shavuot will be celebrated from Sunset, May 19 to nightfall, May 21, 2018.  The Christian Feast of Pentecost will be celebrated in the calendar of most Christian churches on Sunday May 20.

As we Christians celebrate the arrival of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Christian Church it would probably be wise to bear in mind how this event fits into the larger scriptural picture.  Moses presented the word to the children of Israel, Jesus became the “word made flesh”, and the Holy Spirit was revealed to those assembled on “the Day of Pentecost” to remain with us as our “Comforter” just as the Commandments had done before and still do but with a greater understanding as to their true nature.  Jesus was present when the Commandments were given as was the Father and the Holy Spirit but all that was recognized at the time was the act of the Father.  In the fullness of time we Christians have come to know God as a Holy Trinity,  the Father, the creator, the Son, the redeemer, and the Holy Spirit, the comforter.  The important point here is that the nature of God has not changed over the millenia only our understanding of him and how he interacts with us in our daily lives.