The first mention of Pentecost as a feast of the church comes in the second and third centuries. Before that, it probably remained a Jewish feast migrating from a harvest festival celebrated fifty days after Passover, to a celebration of the giving of the Law.
In both the Orthodox and Western churches, Pentecost is a celebration of the animation of the church by the Holy Spirit. At one time, it was considered the second most important feast after Easter. In Canada, it has had a struggle as it often coincides with a major secular holiday —the first long weekend of the warmer season — Victoria Day.
I was ruminating on how the people of Hawaii would react if they heard the Pentecost story this year for the first time. The early experience of the God of Israel was that of a thunder god who spoke from his mountain. I sometimes reflect how frightening it would be to actually experience uncontrollable, unexpected fire and gale force winds. We call out to the Divine to come to us, but I think we would like God in manageable pieces, not overwhelming like the magma from the earth’s core or the hurricanes and tornadoes that devastate the land.
The incarnation begins the conversation by inviting us to open ourselves to the divine, letting ourselves be filled and inspired from the inside out. Jesus attempts to encourage the disciples to make themselves part of the storm, both on the sea and in the courts of society. Standing apart leads to terror; embracing the storm with love and forgiveness brings power.
And so these peasants, these very ordinary people who have moved from cowardice to bravery, from doubt to faith, from simplicity to complex thinking, are now invited to embrace a new storm that will lead them to inclusivity and change, and for most of them, martyrdom. What makes what they do different than charismatic cult figures? Its the context. They are not living for their own glory or status any longer. They exist only to serve Jesus.
Their passion is for the story of Jesus’ incredible compassion, his sense of justice and his promise of abundant life for all people. It is love now that fuels them, not ego. Their purpose will draw them away from their own people, their own safe assumptions. Their past will be burned away and they will be given new ways to assess the world, because their vision is that of Jesus. Their future too has moved from the safe and predictable to the uncharted seas of the unknown. The wind that has whipped around and through them will become the breath with which they speak with the authority of lived experience in relationship to Jesus.
And what will animate us as the church? What will burn away our prejudice and fear and open our hearts to love and reconciliation? Here is a reading from the Gospel of Mary in which Levi has scolded Peter for attempting to silence Mary: “Instead we should be ashamed and, once we clothe ourselves with our full humanity, we should do what we have been commanded. We should announce the good news as the Saviour ordered, and not be laying down any rules or making laws.” As the church, it is time to open the doors of our hearts and minds again, and admit all the people. We have only one rule: to love without limit or exhaustion.