A Word about the Readings
by Father Gethin
(The readings may be found here)
Sometimes described as the Church’s birthday, the feast of Pentecost is the third and final of the three high holy days in our Christian calendar. Together with Christmas and Easter, Pentecost recalls the foundational events of our faith: the Incarnation of the divine Word at Christmas, Christ’s suffering and triumph over death in the Passion and Resurrection, and finally, the sending of the Holy Spirit, which we celebrate today, also called Whitsunday.
The story is altogether dramatic: after ten days of quiet prayer and patient solitude, and just as the Jews were gathered in the city for the spring festival of first-fruits, the first Christian community comes into being as it is utterly overwhelmed by the descent of the Holy Spirit, outpouring the infinite truth and goodness of God’s power upon them, and in them. Apart from that event, which is to say, apart from the living truth and goodness of God present to lead them and strengthen them, there could have been no church, no history of discipleship and witness to the saving work of Jesus. The Church is the ecclesia, the gathering of souls, formed and constituted directly by God’s graceful Presence as their very life and inspiration. Without that Presence, the children of God are left helpless, and comfortless.
God’s Presence upholds and blesses us in two ways, represented by the double experience of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost: the rushing wind that filled the whole house, and the tongues of fire which settled on the Apostles. Wind is breath, the new life of the Spirit, just as God animated Adam with the breath of life; wind is the image of our spiritual rebirth as God’s family. “Marvel not that I told you, you must be born again.” The plumes of fire signify God’s particular purpose, expressed and worked out in our human story either as judgement (we think of the fiery torments of hell) or as divine guidance or vocation (we think of the fiery pillar guiding Israel through the desert, and of the coal which the angel brought to inspire Isaiah’s ministry). On this day, it shows us the establishment of a new ministry, the ministry of sacramental grace that will be the Church’s life-blood across time. The fire rests on the Apostles because it is within the bounds of their faithful teaching, and with the strength and comfort of the sacraments they will administer and hand on, that all other Christian vocations and gifts will be known and received.