Jesus said, "Anyone who loves me will be true to my word
and My Father will love him and we will come to him and make our dwelling
place with him. He who does not love me does not keep my words."
A few minutes ago you heard a narrative from the Acts of the Apostles
describing the first Pentecost Sunday. The reading, I am sure, is very
familiar to you. As St. Luke was writing the Acts of the Apostles and describing
for us the first Pentecost Sunday, he used beautiful and symbolic language
in order to convey to us the richness of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit
upon the Church. If you understand some of those symbols, it will help
you, I believe, to comprehend why this is such a great festival in our
First of all, I would ask you a question: What makes a Jew a Jew? (I
don't expect you to shout out your answer.) One thing that does make a
Jew a Jew is his fidelity to the Law, to the Covenant. There is an outward
sign of that fidelity which is called circumcision. But it is his fidelity
to the Law that makes a Jew a Jew.
That is why in Jerusalem were gathered Jews: devout Jews from all parts
of the known world. They had gathered together in Jerusalem for one of
the three festival days that was enjoined upon them in the Book of Exodus
(Ex.23:14-16). The three are Passover, Tabernacles, and this festival day,
which is Pentecost. It celebrated the harvest, but it also celebrated the
fact that they were People of the Covenant that God had struck with them
on Mount Sinai. They came together on Pentecost in order to celebrate their
harvest feast, particularly the wine harvest. That is the reason why all
of these people were in Jerusalem. These devout Jews from every nation
were there in order to celebrate their identity as a people.
Now come the apostles, having received the Holy Spirit. They go out
from the Upper Room and they are able to speak to the assembled Jews in
the language that they can understand. The harvest of souls has begun;
the Jews were struck with amazement at this. We can't help but think about
another event from the Old Testament, from the Book of Genesis. You remember
the story of the Tower of Babel: how those folks were going to build a
tower and reach God. They were going to reach to God, not by grace, but
by their own bootstraps. So God confused their language. Up until that
time all languages were the same. It's a very primitive story that found
its way into Scripture, first of all, to teach the people why there are
so many different languages.
More importantly, it's in the Scriptures for another reason. It is a
description of the rippling effect of sin. You see, sin is not only between
ourselves and God, but there are also effects that ripple out from that.
Adam and Eve sinned against God by their disobedience and pride. The next
ripple was - what? Cain killed his brother, Abel. The story of the Tower
of Babel teaches so graphically that the disintegration that sin causes
has reached masses of people. Alienation, isolation, separation: these
are all the effects of sin. If we could quote a familiar phrase from an
old movie, "What we have here is a failure to communicate." They couldn't
communicate any more with each other. They were no longer one. This was
the effect of sin.
Now in St. Luke's description of the first Pentecost, we have a reversal
of the Babel story. All of the people are brought together and they can
hear and understand the Word of God spoken in their own language. They
can hear the good news of salvation.
We also have those mysterious tongues of fire that parted and descended
on each of the apostles in the upper room as a sign of the presence of
the Holy Spirit. Fire was a wonderful symbol of the presence of God throughout
the Old Testament. Remember the story of Moses and the burning bush. Remember
that as the people of Israel were led out of Egypt, by night they were
led by a pillar of fire. Isaiah: his lips were cleansed with a burning
coal in order that he might proclaim the word of God. Ezekiel ascended
to heaven in a fiery chariot. Fire becomes a symbol of the presence of
God and His power. Luke uses it to describe the presence of God, and the
power of the Holy Spirit descending upon the apostles.
There was also "a sound as of a rushing mighty wind that filled the
whole house". Again, we go way back to Genesis, as Saint Luke did, for
that imagery. As the Spirit of God moved over the waters, the waters of
chaos, God began to create. He breathed life into this world of ours. In
the second story of creation in Genesis, when God molded man out of that
lump of clay, he breathed into him and he was brought to life. Saint Luke
is saying that there is a new breath now and we are alive with a new life
and that life is the very life of God himself that he has deemed fit to
share with us. All of these symbols surround this event which is Pentecost!
Perhaps the most important idea is one that we really don't think about:
why all of those folks were there in Jerusalem to celebrate their identity
as Jews, as Israelites. Today, you and I would do the very same thing.
For it is because God has deemed fit to make a New Covenant with us that
we are who we are. "Once you were no people; now you are God's people,"
writes St. Peter (I Pet. 2:10). The people of the Old Testament made a
covenant with God. He established the terms of that covenant. It was not
negotiable. "I will be your God; you will be my people. I will lead you
to a promised land. In exchange for this, you are to keep my Law." The
people said, "All the things that the Lord has enjoined upon us this day,
we will do" (Ex.24:lff). They entered into a covenant with God himself,
a covenant that was sealed with the blood of animals.
Now we have a New Covenant with our God and it isn't an ethnic covenant.
It embraces the whole world, all of mankind. All of us are called to be
the new people of God in a new relationship with him. That is why Jesus
said in the Gospel reading today, "Anyone who loves Me will be true to
My word." You see we have to keep His word, His commands in order to be
faithful to the covenant. "A new commandment I give you, that you love
one another as I have loved you". "This is my command to you," says Jesus,
"in exchange for the keeping of those commands I will be your God; you
will be my people and I will lead you to a new Promised Land" - heaven!
The relationship that you and I have with our God is based on the covenant
that the Holy Spirit brought to the apostles, to the people of Jerusalem
gathered there. You and I are brought into that covenant relationship with
our God through the sacrament of Baptism. For it was when we were baptized
that you and I became members of a people, a spiritual race, if you will;
a race chosen by God in a new and special way.
God cared for the people of Israel according to the terms of the covenant.
He did bring them to the promised land. He did care for them even though,
time after time, they broke the covenant. When they returned to him, he
blessed them. This is what Jesus said this morning in today's Gospel, "Anyone
who loves me will be true to my word and my Father will love him. We will
come to him and make our dwelling place with him." God dwells in us: He
dwells in our very being, in our souls by grace. He has graced us with
his presence. He makes His dwelling with us and in us.
For us, this festival of Pentecost is the celebration of our identity
as the people of God. This is why we are here today. This is why we have
a few extra frills in our ceremonies, if you will. It's because we want
to celebrate the idea of who we are. We are God's people. He has made us
such in his infinite love. In turn, we are to keep His command that we
love him and one another.
The people of the Old Testament said, "All that the Lord has enjoined
upon us this day, we will do." This is what you and I say together in this
Eucharist, for every Eucharist is a Covenant Meal. Every time we celebrate
Eucharist, we are renewing the covenant. The Lord died once for all; His
sacrifice is re-presented to the Father and we are a part of that. We offer
perfect sacrifice to the Father and then the Lord feeds us with his Body
and Blood. We are saying, "Yes, this is how close we are to our God. We
are truly a people. He has made us such. We are that spiritual race of
people and we will keep the Covenant. We will keep his command to love
him and one another."
Today, as we celebrate the festival of Pentecost, remember why we are
here: Once we were no people, but now - right now - we are God's people.
Let us rejoice and give thanks to God in this Eucharist.
Please note: These sermons are offered for your meditation.
If you wish to use them for some other purpose or republish them, please
credit St. Dunstanís Church and Fr. Sisterman.