my miscellany

The Day of Pentecost: Whitsunday, 2023 — 28 May 23

The Day of Pentecost: Whitsunday, 2023

Vrelant, Guillaume, -1481. Pentecost, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=56943 [retrieved May 27, 2023]. Original source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Willem_Vrelant_(Flemish,_died_1481,_active_1454_-_1481)_-_Pentecost_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg.

RCL Year A, Pentecost
Acts 2:1-21, Psalm 104:25-35 and 37, I Corinthians 12:3b-13, Saint John 20:19-23

Every Maundy Thursday we are reminded that lying behind the institution of the Eucharist is the Jewish Passover. And, similarly, on Pentecost we are reminded that lying behind our Pentecost is a Jewish festival sometimes called Pentecost.

When Luke writes in today’s first lesson “When the day of Pentecost had come,”[1] he refers to the Jewish festival called Pentecost, because the divided tongues have not yet appeared. Pentecost is the name Greek Jews used to refer to Shavuot which follows Passover by fifty days. The use of Greek words is typical of Luke. For example, look at the names of the new deacons, including Stephen, in Acts 6. And remember that Luke addresses the Book of the Acts to a Greek named Theophilus.

Shavuot is a Jewish festival commemorating two things. The first is the offering to the Almighty the first fruits of a harvest, and the second thing commemorated is the giving of the Law, the Ten Commandments, on Mount Sinai. As you know, our Pentecost commemorates the giving, not of the Law, but the Holy Spirit, who, we believe, “leads us into all truth and enables us to grow in the likeness of Christ,” as the Catechism says.[2] The Prayer Book gives the Day of Pentecost a subtitle, Whitsunday, which means white Sunday, recalling that Pentecost, in Anglican usage, is a White Feast.

The New Testament contains two versions of the Day of Pentecost, and both are in our Lessons today. The first is the first reading, from Acts 2, telling the familiar story of the “divided tongues, as of fire,” descending and resting on each of the disciples. The second is the Gospel, where Jesus makes a resurrection appearance to the disciples in the evening on the day of resurrection, the first Easter Day, breathes on them, and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”[3]

The stories differ, obviously, but that difference should not put any obstacle in our way. Both tell a single truth that we are given the Holy Spirit to guide us and to strengthen us. We are certain that we are in the Spirit when we read the Scriptures, when we worship the One, True God, and when we receive Holy Communion. Beyond that we have a lot of leeway. That is good news, isn’t it? Mother Teresa looked for God among the poorest of the poor as they were dying. Simeon Stylites looked for God while living for thirty-seven years on a small platform atop a pillar near Aleppo. Giles looked for God while living as a solitary in forests near Nîmes, sustained by fruits, vegetables, and deer milk. Dorothy Day looked for God while founding and editing the Catholic Worker, promoting distributism, an economic theory neither capitalist nor socialist. The key, I think, is to answer your call to look for God while certainly staying in touch with God using the sure and certain means of the Scriptures, worship, and Communion.

Make your engagement with God the wood of your cross and carry it daily. Never let it go, for it is your road to God. All roads lead to God when we travel them looking for God. For the Spirit of the Lord fills the whole world.[4]

The Great Fifty Days of Easter end today. Egeria, the fourth-century pilgrim to Jerusalem reminds us that only in the evening of today did the Christians there bid farewell to Easter. Make sure that the end of Easter brings no end to your relationship with the Risen Lord. He died for you, and he rose for you. And he would do it all over again if that were necessary.

[1] Acts 2:1.

[2] The BCP, page 852.

[3] Saint John 20:22.

[4] Wisdom 1:7.

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