The word Pentecost, which is Greek in origin, means fifty days. While, for Christians, Pentecost comes fifty days after Easter, on the Jewish calendar Pentecost is fifty days after Passover. The Hebrew word for this Jewish observance is Shavu’ot, or, as it is commonly referred to in English, the Festival of Weeks. During the celebration of Shavu’ot, Jews commemorate God giving the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai. Shauv’ot, or Pentecost, was and remains a major annual observance for Jews worlwide. Observing Pentecost in the Temple, which was still standing in the time of the apostles, is the reason that there were Jews from all over the known world in Jerusalem on the occasion of the first Christian Pentecost.
The Holy Spirit’s descent, as recorded in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, came fifty days after the Passover during which Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection occurred. Just as observance of the Law, not descent from Abraham, is what conferred on the Jewish people their identity as God’s chosen people, it is the Holy Spirit who gives the Church her identity as the Bride of Christ. So, just as especially through child-bearing, a man and a woman become flesh of each other’s flesh and bone of each other’s bone, it is by the power of the Holy Spirit that those reborn in baptism make the Church, Christ’s Bride, his very body.
It is by Christ’s pouring out the Holy Spirit on the first Christian Pentecost that God opened the one covenant to everyone and anyone who says “Jesus is Lord” by the power of the Spirit. In his Second Letter to the Corinthians St. Paul made the distinction between the spirit and the letter of the law (2 Cor 3:6). Christ showed us that the law was not given as an end in itself, but as a means to the end of being perfected in love. While what we do, or don’t do, certainly matters, why we do what we do and why we avoid what we should not do matters just as much. As Spirit-filled followers of Christ our reason for doing or not doing is the same: love of God and neighbor.
After Easter, Pentecost is the most important celebration on the Church’s liturgical calendar. It is sometimes referred to as the birthday of the Church. Given the milieu in which we live, I think understanding that the Church began at Pentecost and has continued by the power of the same Spirit ever since is vitally important. It is equally important to grasp that the Church, which has existed from before the foundation of the world, will never cease to exist. Heaven is the Church, the city of God come down from heaven, as we read in the twenty-first chapter of Revelation (Rev 21:2-3). You see, in the end the Church will only be comprised of saints, which is why French Catholic writer Leon Bloy’s observation- “There is only one tragedy in the end, not to have been a saint” – gets right to heart of the matter. In other words, Christ did not send the Holy Spirit merely to put on a good show for the Jews gathered in Jerusalem more than 2,000 years ago any more than he does so now. Christ sends the Holy Spirit to renew the face of the earth beginning with you and me.
The Solemnity of Pentecost is often seen as the rectification of the confusion of languages that resulted from the attempt, which echoed the original sin, to build a tower that reached to heaven- the Tower of Babel. Building on seeing the first Christian Pentecost as the event marking the opening of God’s one covenant with humanity to anyone who comes to faith in Christ, which is only possible by the Holy Spirit, it can also be viewed as the beginning of God’s restoring communion among a sin-fractured humanity. As the apostles spoke their fellow Jews, gathered in Jerusalem from all over the world, just as Catholics from all over the world, speaking many languages, often gather in St. Peter’s Square, heard the proclamation of the Gospel in his/her own language.
It is fitting that during this Jubilee of Mercy our Gospel for Pentecost Sunday is an excerpt of our Gospel for the Second Sunday of Easter, which is the feast of Divine Mercy. One of the criteria for something to be a sacrament is that Christ himself instituted it as such. Our Gospel reading today is the primary passage to which the Church points when considering the Sacrament of Penance, more commonly referred to as confession. It is notable that the Sacrament of Penance was the first gift given to the Church by the Lord after his resurrection.
Through the waters of baptism, we are restored to that state of original grace in which God created human beings to live. This state of original grace may be more succinctly referred to as the state of communion: communion between humanity and God, communion between people, and communion between people and nature. But so persistent is our fallen state that even after we are baptized we are still prone to sin. This is what makes going to confession, which is an extension of baptism, so vitally important for your spiritual life and health.
Just as in the Eucharist the bread and wine become for us Christ’s body and blood by the power of the Holy Spirit, it is by the Spirit’s power given us through the Sacrament of Penance that our sins are forgiven and the eternal punishment due to us is mercifully taken away. Rather than wait for God’s judgment at the end of your life, going to confession regularly gives you the opportunity to judge yourself, acknowledge your sins, express your sorrow, do penance, and receive the grace you need to live an increasingly Spirit-filled life until you are perfected in love.
The Holy Spirit is the way that Jesus Christ remains present in us and among us until he returns again in glory. The sacraments are the Holy Spirit's masterworks. Perhaps the best definition of a sacrament is a visible and tangible sign of Christ’s presence in and for the world. One of the four ways that Christ is really and truly present in this Eucharist and every Eucharist is in our gathering, as the baptized, to be immersed in the great Paschal mystery. Our assembling here today is not just a visible and tangible sign of Christ’s presence in and for the world, but is the sign of Christ's presence in southern Davis County, Utah. By virtue of your baptism and confirmation, in which God called you by name, you are called be a sacrament, that is, an active, dynamic sign of Christ’s presence in and for the world. At the end of this Mass you will be sent to “proclaim the Gospel of the Lord,” just as the apostles were sent at Pentecost after receiving the Holy Spirit.
My dear friends in Christ, in a very real sense, every Sunday is Pentecost; we are filled with the Holy Spirit and sent forth to proclaim the Good News- “Jesus is Lord!”