|The Descent of the Spirit at Pentecost-- Hans Multscher (1400-67)|
- Acts 2:1-21 or Ezekiel 37:1-14 •
- Psalm 104:24-34, 35b •
- Romans 8:22-27 or Acts 2:1-21 •
- John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15
The Day of Pentecost was a harvest festival, one of the traditional festivals of the Jewish religious year. Luke tells us that this was the day on which the disciples found themselves so filled with a ‘Holy’ Spirit that, even though the Risen Christ no longer appeared to them, they were brought back into the full presence of God. Because of this, ‘Pentecost’ became an important Christian festival also, and the passage from Acts that recounts this event is always read on this Sunday.
But the Lectionary gives us a choice. We can read it in conjunction with a lesson from the Old Testament, thereby looking back to the long salvation history of which it is the fulfillment. Or, it can be read in conjunction with Paul’s theological reflections on what ‘the Spirit’ means and does.
Both contexts underline something central, that the coming of the Holy Spirit -- in the Apostles’ lives, in the lives of those they converted, and in our own lives -- is not a once in a lifetime spiritual experience complete in itself, but the often faltering beginning of a process of spiritual development. No emotional experience, however powerful, can eliminate the continual need to deepen our understanding of God’s Incarnation and our salvation through the Cross.
This explains why, in the Gospel, Jesus says to his disciples “it is to your advantage that I go away. . . I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own”. Pentecost marks the birth of the Church. It is an occasion of celebration because the Church is ‘the Body of Christ’, a community enlivened by the Holy Spirit, and – despite all its manifest failings – enabled thereby to go on guiding us in the Truth about God.