On Ash Wednesday, Christians begin the annual celebration of the paschal mystery which reaches its peak on the feast of Pentecost.
The feast of Pentecost became very important in the life of the Church, because it was on that feast day, when the disciples had locked themselves in the room in fear of the Jews, that they experienced the fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit on each one of them.
The Holy Spirit filled them and made them a covenant community that was to continue the work of Christ throughout human history. For Christians, the same feast marks both the coming of the Holy Spirit and the traditional birth of the Church.
It is worthy to remember however, that long before the coming of Jesus Christ, Pentecost meant something else for the Jews. In their long tradition, the feast of Pentecost was celebrated fifty days after Passover, to commemorate the arrival of the people of Israel at Mount Sinai.
This is where Moses went up to meet God and to receive the law. Hebrews were particularly proud of having been the people chosen by God to receive this gift. And so, the feast of Pentecost for them was a celebration of thanksgiving to God.
By the fact that Luke stresses the point that the apostles received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, he wants to teach us that for the Christians, the Holy Spirit has substituted the law of Moses. Ours is the new law.
The law of the Spirit is as well a new heart. It is the life of God which transforms and changes the old into a new person. As Christians therefore, we too like the Hebrews, we have reasons to be proud during the celebration of Pentecost, because we remember how the church of which we are members was founded.
Today, as we celebrate the feast of Pentecost, we read with admiration that remarkable event as narrated in the Acts 2:4 that when all the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit, they started to speak foreign languages. Their audience wondered because every body was hearing them speaking in his or her own language.
It is amazing therefore to note that on Pentecost as the Church’s universal mission was mandated, one of the most fundamental human division, which is language barrier, was broken down.
And it acted as an assurance to the early church that through the Holy Spirit, further barriers would be surmounted. This legacy continues to summon the Church to shape its life to different cultures so that all in a manner adapted by their way of life can belong to the Church.
This alone gives us enough hope that the Church guided by the Holy Spirit shall continue to be generally as it was willed by Christ. Problems shall always be there, but the Church shall continue to grow through them in one way or another.
St. Paul in the form of warning, speaks of the apparent danger in the universal church, and that is the kind of Spirit-given diversity in the Church. All may be different but one in Christ and under the Holy Spirit.
In 1 Corinthians, Paul writes to a community which may represent any local church; divided by all sorts of problems. Initially they were factions gathered around particular leaders, followed by a host of social problems, marital problems, questions on women’s participation in public worship, disputes over the celebration of the Lord’s Supper and many others.
Surprisingly, they are problems which still belong to our time. In order to surmount them, we too need the guidance of the Holy Spirit. In all sorts of problems, St. Paul tells us that the Church should keep the spirit of the Pentecost and try to be “all things to all…for the sake of the Gospel” (1 Cor 9:22-23). The Church in this era of the guidance of the Holy Spirit, cannot afford to hide from whatever danger it might face.
The Church should continue to lean on the Holy Spirit and its members who are guided by the Holy Spirit in a very special way. St. Paul’s pastoral theology is epitomized in 1 Corinthians 12, where he celebrates different kinds of spiritual gifts but the “same Spirit”, in that each individual is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the benefit of the whole body.
Throughout the Pauline teaching, diversity and mutual interdependence are manifestations of the Spirit’s presence and gifts to the Church. It is along these terms therefore that the Church must continue to define itself in order to stay relevant to the modern time.
As the celebration of the traditional feast of Pentecost influenced the meaning of the feast to the early Christians, so are we moved by the importance of that feast for the Church of our time?
Like the apostles, today all the Church members who allow themselves to be transformed by the word of the gospel and by the Spirit, do speak a language that everybody understands and that can unite all the people.
The language that they commonly speak is the language of love. It is the Spirit who forms this new family where all can understand and love one another.
As we celebrate this year’s feast of Pentecost, let us remember as Christians that we have been transformed into a new people guided by the Holy Spirit and judged by the new law of love.
The New Testament tells us that this interior transformation is brought about by baptism. As a sacrament, baptism gives us a power that invites us to live like Christ. But we should not understand this transformation as sudden, immediate and miraculous.
This is not how the Spirit acts; it grows in us slowly and silently, but will eventually bear fruit. The Holy Spirit always existed, exists and will exist. On Pentecost, and in a special way, he was sent to exercise the inward saving influence and to promote the growth of the Church. He came down on the disciples so that he may remain with them forever.
This alone makes a lot of difference in the life of every individual Christian the moment he or she meditates on the relevance of Pentecost in his or her life. With this kind of meditation a Christian starts to view himself or herself differently. He or she evaluates himself or herself essentially as the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. And that is really what we are.