Out with the old, in with the new. That’s how I think of Pentecost. Pentecost (Pentēkostē), is the Greek name for Festival of Weeks, the prominent Jewish festival celebrating the giving of the Law on Sinai. Shavuot, the Hebrew name for the festival, is still celebrated in Judaism, as it has been since Moses’ time.
The Old Testament tells the story of God’s relationship with humanity, especially God’s covenantal relationship with Israel, a ragtag bunch of tribes and renegades that struggle in their place with God, each other, and other nations. At the time, the Law given to Moses by God symbolized a new way to live and move and have being for the people of Israel. Of course, this is much oversimplified, but it defined how things were done for a very long time. There were various updates along the way, but no major operating system changes.
Then comes Jesus. With Jesus, everything changed. It was like a whole new operating system with a new interface, new fonts, icons, and apps. Oh, and you needed a new device to run that operating system. The old technology was not capable of running the new operating system. Everyone – religious leaders, political leaders, the devout, seekers, deniers, atheists, regular people – were now presented with something completely new to consider.
Ever since Jesus’ death (crucifixion on Good Friday), resurrection (Easter), reappearance (40 days after Easter), and disappearance again (Ascension), his followers were trying to get a handle on their new life. I imagine lots of late nights or lingering at the table piecing together their stories and experiences from the past three years, not unlike what the families and friends do after the death of a loved one. So many twists and turns and, just when they think they have a handle on what’s next for them, something new happens that upsets what they thought it was going to be. Even referencing their Scriptures against the teachings they heard of Jesus, doesn’t give them much of a road map. They have new experiences they’re trying to interpret through old traditions. That brings us to Pentecost.
Jews, including the steadfast followers of Jesus, were in Jerusalem to celebrate Shavuot or Pentecost. Jerusalem was quite cosmopolitan, so a lot of other people from other walks of life, cultures, and countries were also present. Something remarkable happened.
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” ~ Acts 2:1-13
Peter goes on to give to give his first recorded public sermon and it was the beginning of something very new, very unexpected, and very evolutionary. The older focus of closed, ethnically based community and even Shavuot now became the teachings of Jesus and an inclusive community that welcomed anyone and everyone. Pentecost and the outpouring of God’s Spirit was the final piece to everything Jesus had been telling them. It was now up to them to live out that message everywhere and with everyone. The old way was out. It was now in with the new. The Spirit was the new device to help power the new operating system. Everything was now completely powered up.
The early believers didn’t erect a church building and expect people to come in the doors. They didn’t just talk to their friends and only others who spoke their language or looked like them. They didn’t demand lifestyle changes or a probationary period or a secret handshake before someone was let in. There weren’t rules or catechisms or even creeds to believe and follow. Instead, they came together to talk, sing praises, share a meal, lend a helping hand, feed the hungry, clothed the naked, visit the prisoner. They welcomed the stranger, protected the vulnerable, loved the unloving. God’s Spirit infused them moment by moment as they found their way – a new way – to live and move and have their being.
A movement was born that Pentecost. Now the world was really going to be turned upside down. It is a new day.