Before the Christian experience of the descent of the Holy Spirit, the Jews celebrated Pentecost as the Festival of Weeks, an agricultural festival of giving first fruits to the Lord celebrated seven weeks after Passover (Ex 34:22; Deut 16:10). The feast of Pentecost is referred to in the Old Testament books of Tobit (2:1) and 2 Maccabees (12:32). The apostles were in Jerusalem for the Festival of Weeks when the Holy Spirit came upon them.
Pentecost is popularly regarded as the birthday of the Church because from that point on the apostles carried the message of Christ out into the world. It is a celebration of the Holy Spirit, who the apostles experienced in a profound way.
As they were “all together in one place” (Acts 2:1), the apostles heard “a sound like the rush of a violent wind. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them” (Acts 2:2-3). Wind and fire are familiar symbols of the Holy Spirit. Just as we cannot see the wind, but we can see the effects of the wind on trees and bushes, we cannot see the Holy Spirit, but we can see the effects of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in the lives of people around us. Fire is a powerful element. It warms us and cooks our food, but it also consumes that which it touches. The Holy Spirit fills us with the warmth of God’s love and joy, nourishes us with the presence of Christ, and if we allow, consumes our lives with power and inspiration.
They “were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability” (Acts 2:4). After being filled with the Holy Spirit, the apostles spoke in the languages of the people gathered in Jerusalem. They were able to share the Good News of Christ with everyone they encountered in the ways that the people would understand. So to, if we allow the Holy Spirit to fill us, will we be able to share the Good News with the people we meet in the ways that they will understand, allowing and inviting them to come to know Christ.
As we celebrate Pentecost this week, I invite you to consider your understanding of and relationship with the Holy Spirit. How would you describe the Holy Spirit? How have you experienced the Spirit in your life? How have you been open to the gifts of the Holy Spirit and allowed those gifts to inspire your life?