As we come to the end of the Easter Season we look forward to celebrating together the Feast of Pentecost. A version of the feast we celebrate today as Pentecost already existed long before the time of Jesus. The word 'Pentecost' was the name given to one of three principle feasts celebrated by the people of Israel. For them, the feast of Pentecost occurred fifty days after the Feast of Passover. The word 'Pentecost' in fact means fifty. The Feast of Passover commemorated the deliverance of the Israelites from oppressive and cruel slavery at the hands of the Egyptians. God delivered his people Israel by protecting them from judgment through the covering of their households with the blood of a lamb that was slain. The Feast of Pentecost was an agricultural festival that began seven weeks (or fifty days) after the Feast of Passover. This was a time for joy and thanksgiving to God for his blessing and provisions. The Feast of Tabernacles was held after the general harvest was gathered in. These three Old Testament/Jewish festivals help us to understand Christ better. Jesus Christ is our Passover, our Pentecost and our Tabernacle. He is our Passover because He gave himself, his blood for the forgiveness and remission of our sins so that we might pass from its bondage into the freedom that we find in the promise of a personal relationship with God. Jesus Christ is our Pentecost, the one who baptizes us with the Holy Spirit filling us with joy and thanksgiving. And at the final harvest at the end of this age, Jesus will be our Feast of Tabernacles as he will gather all his children, those marked in baptism, to himself. But on this day in the church we principally commemorate the sending the Holy Spirit into the hearts and minds of the disciples. Today marks the end of the Easter season. The Easter candle, which has been burning since Easter will be set aside and used only if there is a baptism. After Pentecost we continue what is called 'Ordinary Time' which simply means that the joyous feasts have ended, and we go back to reading the Synoptic Gospels and hearing Jesus’s teachings and parables.
The reading from John which we will hear proclaimed on the Day of Pentecost presents us with a very specific account of the outpouring of the Spirit: It is evening of Easter Sunday. The disciples are huddled behind locked doors in the 'Upper Room,' terrified that the authorities might come to take them away as collaborators with the recently executed Jesus. Suddenly the Risen Jesus is there among them. Jesus gives the disciples their formal commission.
“Go into the whole world; make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you. And behold I am with you always until the end of the ages.”
And then he breathes on them, saying Receive the Holy Spirit.
The apostles were changed at Pentecost. The change that occurred in them was due to the coming of the Holy Spirit. Prior to his coming they were living in hiding in the upper room. They were filled with fear and were gripped by a terrible sense of failure and inadequacy. A great task had been entrusted to them, yet they had neither the will nor the strength to begin it. On that day they experienced the ﬁdelity of Jesus to his promise. They were suddenly overwhelmed by his love for them and trust in them. The Holy Spirit launched them into the world to do the most exciting and worthwhile work of all – to be witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus and to preach his Gospel of salvation to all people.
Perhaps it is a mistake to think that all this change happened in one day. Growth is a gradual thing. But we can say that Pentecost began it. It was a red-letter day in their lives. It was to them what a sudden day of spring sunshine is to a frozen landscape. From the First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul speaks of the effect of the Spirit on the Christian community. The Church and each community within it reflects unity and diversity. We are not called to uniformity. We are not clones of Christ or each other. Unity presumes diversity and a variety of gifts and talents and responsibilities. Each member of the Christian community is to be aware of his or her gift. This gift indicates the role the member must play in building up the whole Body, the whole community. We are each called and equipped by the Holy Spirit to carry out the great commission Jesus has entrusted us with. We each play our own unique role in growing the church, nurturing each other as disciples and serving the community.
Over the forthcoming weeks and months, we will baptize several candidates into God’s church. Parents and Godparents will make some very strong promises on their behalf, committing their lives into the promise of “creation’s renewal and redemption” in Christ, through the Holy Spirit. At some point down the line, we pray that those candidates will make some of their own decisions as to how they will live into this promise and play their own part in fulfilling this Great Commission. But in the meantime, the parents and godparents—and we with them—will mark them as “Christ’s own forever.” With boldness, we, as the church at St Cross, will entrust them to the way of Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit, and we will let them know that there is a place for them here, in our midst, should they decide worship alongside us.
We pray: Heavenly Father, the Holy Spirit renewed the apostles, and launched the Church. Help us to experience his presence in us and among us. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.