This weekend we celebrate the festival Sunday of Pentecost. As you will note from its etymology, the word Pente-cost comes from the Latin or Greek root words for “fifty.” Thus, it symbolizes the fullness of fifty days after the Passover/Easter events, when the Spirit of the risen Christ descended upon the disciples who were gathered together in Jerusalem, and then filled-to-the-brim with the Geist (“Spirit”) and gusto of Christ – to share his saving, gospel word. Ten days prior to Pentecost, before Jesus ascended back into heaven, he had prepared his disciples hearts with these words of promised presence and divine direction: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8; RSV. Cf. Matthew 28:18-20).
And so, as you’ve probably already inferred, Pentecost is often referred to by biblical scholars as “the birthday of the church.” Note how Dr. Luke depicts the Pentecost event for us in our reading for this coming Sunday, in Acts 2. I mean, it’s a real Barn-Burner! Dr. Luke is drawing upon imagery here from Exodus 19 when God gives the Ten Commandments to Moses on Mt. Sinai: the wind is whipping, lightning and fire is flashing, the mountain top is enveloped in clouds of thick smoke. And now, some 3500 years later, we see the disciples in the Acts 2 account so jazzed by the power of the Holy Spirit that they come down from their upper room apartment, running-out into the crowded streets of Jerusalem, and appearing as though they’d drunk a whole case of Red Bull with Tequila chasers! They’re speaking in foreign tongues, waving their arms with joy, and sharing the gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sin and new life – with total strangers! Just like any typical Lutheran congregation. Right?! However … there’s another account of Pentecost in the New Testament that we too often gloss-over, because it’s, well, too familiar. Or maybe we just don’t pay close enough attention to the gentle breath marks of the score …
This second account is not as hopped-up on adrenaline or full of bravado as most 21st century dramas go. It’s not entertaining enough. And … let’s be honest, it’s perhaps just too personal. This second account of Pentecost I’m referring to is in our Gospel text for this weekend: from John 20:11-23. It’s about locked doors and disciples hiding in the dark. They’re frozen stiff. They’re afraid of death. I mean, look what happened to Jesus! … And so there’s a chilling silence of guilt and shame (as they had abandoned Christ, and had not yet heard anything more than just rumors of Jesus’ resurrection). They felt like dirt. But more importantly, through those locked doors and hearts enters the risen Christ, whose very presence begins to create a new body. Drawing here upon the imagery of Genesis 2:7, where God blows life even into the dirt of the earth – John’s account speaks of the dirt of sin and death that Jesus has also pushed back on that Easter morning. And then, from out of nowhere … Jesus appears there … in the very midst of his cowering disciples, saying gently: “Peace be with you … as the Father has sent me, so now I send you … receive my Holy Spirit.” And Jesus breathed on them. And the Church was born. Even among these Frozen Chosen. And they are moved to tears of joy … melted for mission.
“People are the words through whom God continues to tell his story of salvation.” (Edward Schillebeeckx; Church: The Human Story of God, p.xiii)