Pentecost is my favorite Catholic feast day. Not an obvious choice, perhaps, what with Christmas and Easter in there taking up all the attention. Yes, Christmas is wonderful, with the decorations and presents and overblown expectations (did I say that?) but you know who does all that shopping and decorating, right? I’m always worn out by the time the big day rolls around. And Easter, of course, is rich with the joy of the risen Christ but I’m a little creeped out by those beady-eyed Peeps–and then there’s our unpredictable Mid-Atlantic weather and all those strangers in my pew. (Did I say that?) For me, Pentecost just ticks all the boxes, as our British friends would say.
Pentecost sets the stage for the best book in the Bible, the Acts of the Apostles. It’s history, a travelogue (Sailing to Ephesus, Corinth and beyond in first century boats!) and an action adventure story (Arrests and daring angel-assisted escapes! Shipwrecks! Martyrdom!) all rolled into one. Once they receive the Holy Spirit, the formerly-reticent and fearful apostles can’t be stopped. But the history of the early church in Acts is also one of leadership and management. If Jesus gave them an undergraduate education in philosophy, theology and literature by way of the parables, then the Holy Spirit descended and led them to Apostolic B-school. They managed their far-flung flock, teaching, encouraging, and settling arguments all without email or even a fax machine. (You didn’t know management is the oft-overlooked 8th gift of the Spirit, did you?)
Pentecost is all about friendship and community. Acts says that the Holy Spirit came to the disciples while they were “in one place together” in the Upper Room, underscoring that faith is not just an individual expression but that were are members of a whole, a church. And it came as Jews gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate Shavuot, the Jewish holiday 50 days after Passover (more history!) When the apostles received the gift of speaking the languages of the far-flung worshipers, it was clear that God did not want their faith to simply be a personal faith, but one shared with the nations.
Finally, Pentecost is mysterious and awesome (in the truest sense of the word) and a little bit quirky—just like the Church. A mighty wind rushing through a locked house, loud enough to draw a crowd from around the city? Certainly mysterious and certainly awe-inspiring. I wonder what they said when the tongues of fire appeared? “Mark, wow, fire over your head! That would make an excellent Instagram filter!” “Hey, John, do we have any marshmallows?” They had to think things were getting a little strange at this point. Even some of the crowd, when they heard them speak in tongues, were sure the disciples had “had too much new wine.” A fitting birthday for the Church that can occasionally amuse even as it enthralls and awes.
Pentecost is the often overlooked bookend to Easter, bringing the season to an end and the Church into being. He is risen, He has ascended into heaven and He has sent the Spirit to guide and strengthen. Like the disciples, I hope this end of the Easter season finds you energized and empowered to spread the Gospel, and may you not have to sail on a rickety boat from Joffa to do it.
Veni Sancte Spiritus,