Rev Tammy Hollands
I came across a post on Facebook this week that said something like:
If this, Corona virus, were happening to the ancient Israelites we’d be stuck with an annual holiday where we’d have to stay inside for 50 days.
Such a festival might look like this: Families gather over Zoom and break and eat of home-made sourdough. Traditional ceremonial face coverings are worn and it is customary to play music from the balcony in concert with your neighbours and clap hands each evening during the festival. Driveways and footpaths are to be decorated with chalk art to commemorate the occasion.
Religious festivals are celebrated to mark significant and life changing events. This Sunday is Pentecost Sunday a Christian Holy day that celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit 7 weeks (49 days) after Easter Sunday. It commemorates coming of the Holy Spirit and is celebrated by many as the birthday of the church on what some people call the first Pentecost. While the Christian Church may have been birthed by this outpouring of the Spirit the origins of Pentecost and the Christian Church have deeper roots.
Pentecost, or in Greek, Πεντηκοστή “Pentēkostē” meaning “fiftieth” was first a Jewish festival which was celebrated on the fiftieth day after Passover, also known as the “Feast of Weeks” (a week of weeks 7×7 plus a day) or in Hebrew שבועות “Shavuot”. Originally it was a harvest festival (Exod 3:14-17; Lev 23:15-22) but more than just a thanksgiving for the harvest it’s link to the Passover festival made it a celebration of God’s acts of salvation too, for the Passover celebrated the escape from slavery and exile and so Pentecost celebrated the tasting of the first fruits of the promised land.
By the second century BCE there are Jewish texts indicating it also became a time to celebrate the coming of the divine Law on Sinai which was believed to have happened fifty days after the Exodus from Egypt. Legend has it that on that occasion a flame came down from heaven and divided into 70 tongues of fire, one for each nation of the world. All could understand, but only one nation promised to keep the Law, Israel. In this account from Luke “divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.” Luke is locating this event in the Jewish tradition giving it deep roots but suggesting “new covenant” is being established. A new covenant which Peter declares is for “the last days”. This new covenant or promise is the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit or in Hebrew רוּחַ “Ruach”, which also means wind and breath is depicted throughout scripture as giving life and is symbolised through fire and wind. From the beginning the Ruach of God broods over the face of the primordial waters and God calls forth life (Genesis 1:2). “God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (Genesis 2:7). God’s Spirit enables people to do specific tasks. The first person in the bible this happens to is Joseph and he is able to interpret dreams. The Ruach or Spirit also empower the prophets to see what is happening in history from God’s point of view. The prophets spoke out about the injustice that they saw in the world and called for transformation so that there would be justice and life. One of these prophets, Joel, is quoted by Peter:
‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
Pentecost Sunday should not be all about looking back and remembering what God did but should also inspire us engage in dreams, visions and prophesy. To look forward and see what the Spirit is doing now and what we are being sent to do. The Spirit is upon us. We each have been gifted with the Spirit
4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
What are your Spiritual gifts? How are you using your Spiritual gift to benefit others?