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Saturday, May 26, 2012

Pentecost, Happy Birthday, the Story Continues

The Pentecost, Santi di Tito, c. 1590
     Happy Birthday to the Church.  While it can also be said that the Church came into being from the wounded side of Christ on the cross I like the idea of celebrating Pentecost as our birthday because that is when the whole reality of what Christ accomplished in His death and resurrection came alive not only in the apostles, but in all who were there and came to faith along with them.

   As I pointed out last week John has no Pentecost event.  His presentation of Christ as the Risen One has Jesus appearing and conferring the Holy Spirit right away. For example, "Receive the Holy Spirit, whose sins you shall forgive they are forgiven them" Luke on the other hand unpacks the Easter gifts separately. The Ascension takes place 40 days after Easter, going along with Jesus 40 days of fasting and Israel's 40 years in the desert. Forty here is obviously a symbolic number.  Pentecost, Greek for 50 days, is first of all the Jewish feast of Shavuot, 50 days after Passover. It is a celebration of the giving of the Torah to the people of Israel. Most of the first Christians were Jewish and so separating out the Resurrection, the return to God in glory (Ascension) and finally the giving of the Holy Spirit to the disciples and associating them with different days helped believers to more easily "unpack" the great mysteries of faith.

   So what does Pentecost mean for us?  Is it merely a celebration of what happened back then?  Certainly not. It is a celebration of what happens to us in our Baptism and Confirmation, and what continues to happen in us throughout our lives--God's Spirit, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us.  We find this too good to be true.  Sure, God can dwell in an Ark in the desert. God can become incarnate in Jesus. Jesus can be truly present in the Eucharistic bread and wine and in the tabernacle, but God present in me? In You?  How can this be.  We are weak, fragile human beings. We are not perfect, yet God's Spirit indeed dwells in us.  When we let this really sink in we are transformed and the Lord can use us in wonderful ways.

   Many parishes are encouraging people to wear something red to church this Sunday.  The priest has red vestments reminding us of the tongues of fire which descended on the apostles.  By wearing red we acknowledge that while there may not have been tongues of fire at our Confirmation the Holy Spirit did indeed come to dwell with us.  At Easter and Christmas families gather at home to celebrate a big meal. Perhaps we should have a big Pentecost dinner or a special outdoor barbecue to celebrate this great feast. So Happy Pentecost and Happy Birthday to the Church, the entire Christian community. And to our Jewish friends a Happy Shavuot.

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