For many people Pentecost is one of those ecclesial celebrations which seems odd. Okay, we know from the Acts of the Apostles that Pentecost reminds us of the Church’s beginnings with a small group, praying and in fear of Jewish officials. Yes, we also have heard Pentecost referred to as the ‘birthday of the Church’. But are either of these worth celebrating: a group cringing in fear or a birthday?
While Pentecost can be seen as the beginning of the Church (thus, a ‘birthday’) its real importance is deeper and very relevant for us today. It points to uncertainty and fear by early followers of Jesus with an unexpected result. This gathering did not produce a strategic plan for evangelizing the Jews nor a policy statement on the importance of Christianity. In fact, what is memorable about Pentecost is not the result of any human action at all- except prayer and open hearts. During this time of fear and uncertainty, the Holy Spirit appears, giving courage to this motley crew of people from a variety of nations. It is the Holy Spirit who created something new- the Church in order to continue the mission of Jesus.
The Pentecost story also draws from rich Old Testament imagery. The Spirit hovering over this confusion creating something new (in Genesis Chapter One we hear of wind [an image of Spirit] blowing over chaos to create). This creation is not an abstraction, a ‘creation of Church’, but a uniting of believers of different races. And, through the action of the Holy Spirit, different languages are no long a barrier to communication between peoples (a lovely parallel to the Old Testament story of the Tower of Babel).
Pentecost then reminds us of the ongoing, active presence of God among us even at times of fear and confusion. We have a God who can surprise us at times of God’s choice. Furthermore, that through the Holy Spirit we can discover in others, regardless of race, language or age, brothers and sisters Christ. While we must work for God’s glory and love of others, it is God who can remove seemingly immoveable barriers (think of the Resurrection accounts where a stone was moved to reveal an empty tomb) or convert the heart of the deadliest foe (remember the conversion of Saul!). Now that is something to celebrate!
Mission Doctors Association makes us aware of our brothers and sisters in Christ who need medical care. Through this fine organization we can assist its mission financially as well as in prayer. Please let us do so to help make the Spirit present to others.
Today's guest blog post is contributed by Brother John Kiesler, OFM is a member of the facility of the Franciscan School of Theology in California. Brother John is a member of the Formation Facility for long-term missionaries through Mission Doctors and presents at the Annual Retreat Seminar on the theology of mission. Additionally he serves as a member of the Board of Directors for Mission Doctors Association.