The Feast of Pentecost and the Age of the Holy Spirit
The Feast of Pentecost falls 50 days after Easter. Pentecost was originally a celebration of the first harvest and people came to Jerusalem from all over the known world to celebrate the feast.
For people in northern climes, the thought of a first harvest celebration in Spring may sound strange. After all, the snow has barely melted and crops are nowhere near ready to harvest. Even early crops like strawberries and lettuce aren’t ready yet. Nevertheless, in the Middle East, and by extension in that general latitude around the globe, many crops have already been harvested. Just go to a grocery store and you’ll see the fruits of our fields waiting for your table!
Within the Church, we celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the disciples – men and women who had been friends, family and followers of Jesus. This outpouring of the Spirit of God, the God Who is Love, gave birth to the Christian community that endures to this day. Jesus’ friends and followers were transformed from frightened “mice” into fearless “lions” who proclaimed boldly that Jesus had been raised from the dead, that He is the long awaited Christ, that God has made Him both Lord and Savior, that a new age has dawned and the Kingdom of God has begun.
These early disciples wasted no time in putting their beliefs into action. They shared what they had. They cared for and healed the sick. They took care of widows and orphans – the powerless ones of their society. They recognized the gifts of women who were leaders in their communities. They spread the Good News of the Lord to all who would listen. And they struggled to understand the implications for themselves and their society of the Good News and the freedom of God’s children. Who were God’s chosen ones? Who could be followers of the Way? What parts of the Law were non-Jews required to obey? How can the pastoral needs of the community be met? Who will look out for the powerless ones in our own communities? How do we choose leaders for our communities? How should Christian family members behave with each other?
For nearly 2000 years we have dealt with these issues as a community. Today we still face many of them, though in a much wider context, as a global, international community that includes peoples of all cultures. More than ever we must count on the continued outpouring of the Spirit to guide us and make us bold witnesses to the Good News.
Much of what we take for granted today is the result of the work of Christians who actively put their beliefs into practice and stepped out to make their part of the world a better place. Institutions such as hospitals, schools for poor and even middle-class children, education for girls, social safety nets, and many others have resulted from the Christian insight that God cares about all humans, even those who traditionally have been excluded.
The Christian belief that all receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit in Baptism and Confirmation also leads to the understanding that all are responsible to share the gifts they have received and bear fruit in their lives. Together we listen to the Spirit and share in the development and shaping of both our Church community and the world.
As we move through these days following Pentecost, we face many challenges. It’s a time of global financial challenges. Governments are moving quickly to try to minimize the harmful effects of the banking crisis on their people. Social service agencies and churches are struggling to offer aid to the increasing numbers of people coming to their doors. Here in California there’s talk of dismantling all state funded social services, including health care programs for children of low income families and the welfare to work programs that helped so many families keep roofs over their heads and food on their tables.
What will we as children of God, brothers and sisters, do to address these challenges in our communities, states and countries? Will we say, as so many do, “It’s not my responsiblity to care for the children of the poor. Why don’t their parents just go get jobs?” Will we say, “Don’t ask me to pay more taxes. I shouldn’t have to cut back my lifestyle to pay for other people’s mistakes.” Will we sit in judgement of people who are losing their homes because they lost their jobs? Will we smugly assume that we’ve saved enough money to keep us safe if we get ill or lose a job? Will we criticize the people who lost their savings to the stock market when the money should have been somewhere safer? I hope not.
This year the time from Pentecost onward can be a time in which we truly listen to the Holy Spirit’s call to build up the Kingdom by caring for the poor, the powerless, those who are ill and who are losing their security (whether as a result of their own errors or those of others). It’s a time to trust that if we give of what we have, share from our abundance or our need, God will make sure that our needs are met. Our ethic of life must include not only the unborn but also those who are here and in need. Womb to tomb includes all those days in-between as well. Let’s not forget that as a Church community.