Again we turn to the Acts of the Apostles for a dramatic picture of the coming of the Holy Spirit. Luke places the event to coincide with the Jewish feast of Pentecost, which was celebrated on the fiftieth day after Passover. Because this marked a period of seven weeks, it was also referred to as the Festival of Weeks. The festival marked the beginning of the wheat harvest, from which it derived its other name the Feast of Harvest. This feast also celebrated the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. Pentecost was a special holiday when large crowds made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem to attend the celebrations.
Against this backdrop, Luke stages quite an action packed drama. The great driving winds and tongues of fire indicated a theophany. Yahweh’s presence on Mount Sinai prior to the giving of the Torah was accompanied with fire and great smoke, (Ex. 19:18).
There is now a new Pentecost, a new Fiftieth-Day event, but this one is counting from the Resurrection. The power of God has come upon this group with wind and fire, a fire that divides and rests on each one of them. They are filled with the Spirit of God, and begin to speak, not of the law of Sinai, but of the new and wondrous things that God has done through Jesus, the Christ. They have received their mission to go out and be witnesses to the ends of the earth.
We must also recognize another account of the coming of the Spirit on the disciples, that which we read in the Gospel of John. This is not placed fifty days later, but on the evening of that first day of the week, the evening of the Resurrection. There is no fire or strong wind, but there is the breathing on them by Jesus as he invites them to receive the Holy Spirit. This is reminiscent of God’s breathing life into the clay of humanity in Genesis, and the reviving of the dry bones in Ezekial through God’s giving them breath.
We are presented today with two different images of the coming of the Spirit. While the images may contrast the messages intertwine. Luke’s dramatic picture in the Acts can be associated with mission, the going out to be witnesses to Jesus, the anointing with the force of the Spirit for the mission of preaching. John’s post Resurrection breathing on of the Spirit takes a gentler and quieter form and appears to be associated with peace and reconciliation. Breath is the constant sustaining energy of life, and wind, the force to get things moving.
Only in the breathing in of the Spirit of God is peace and reconciliation found. There is no message of Jesus to preach until that has been established. But once it has taken a firm hold in the soul, then the Spirit rouses that soul with the wind-fire energy to witness to the power of God to heal our world through the message of Jesus, that we might all be one.
Elizabeth Ferguson, OP