Dear Mother Miriam, I know that Pentecost celebrates the birth of the Church, but I was taught also that the Church was born from the pierced side of Christ on Calvary. Can it be both?
Perhaps in a sense, dear Zelda. Just as with human birth, life begins at the moment of conception in the mother’s womb. Yet the fullness of its manifestation, so to speak, takes place nine months later at the birth of that child from its mother’s womb.
In his encyclical, Mystici Corporis Christi (the Mystical Body of Christ), Pope Pius XII, quoting Leo XIII, writes:
“The Church which, already conceived, came forth from the side of the second Adam in His sleep on the Cross, first showed Herself before the eyes of men on the great day of Pentecost.”
Saint John Chrysostom, in his teaching on the power of Christ’s blood, writes:
“There flowed from His side water and blood . . . symboliz(ing) baptism and the Holy Eucharist. From these two sacraments the Church is born: from baptism, the cleansing water that gives rebirth and renewal through the Holy Spirit, and from the Holy Eucharist.” (Liturgy of the Hours, Vol. II, p. 474)
In his homily on the Solemnity of Pentecost, (Sunday, June 12, 2011), our beloved Pope emeritus Benedict XVI said:
In the liturgy of Pentecost Psalm 104, which we have heard, corresponds with the account in the Acts of the Apostles of the birth of the Church (cf. Acts 2:1-11, emphasis mine): a hymn of praise of the whole creation which exalts the Creator Spirit who has made all things with wisdom . . . This is what the Church wants to tell us: the Spirit Creator of all things and the Holy Spirit whom the Lord caused to come down from the Father upon the community of the disciples are one and the same. Creation and redemption belong to each other and constitute, in depth, one mystery of love and of salvation. The Holy Spirit is first and foremost a Creator Spirit, hence Pentecost is also a feast of creation.
“If I am lifted up,”said our Lord, “I will draw all men to myself” (John 12:32). God, through His Son’s death on the Cross, rescued humanity from sin and death. But it was the coming of the Spirit into human hearts and minds on the Day of Pentecost that would enable and empower the People Israel to become a new people in Christ – a new Israel – an Israel of the Spirit (Galatians 6:16) that would include Jews and Gentiles alike.
Pope Emeritus Benedict’s homily goes on to say:
The images of wind and fire, used by St Luke to portray the coming of the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 2:2-3), evoke Sinai, where God revealed himself to the People of Israel and granted it his Covenant. “Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke”, we read in the Book of Exodus, “because the Lord descended upon it in fire” (19:18). Indeed Israel celebrated the 50th day after the Passover, after the commemoration of the flight from Egypt, as the feast of Sinai, the feast of the Covenant (I add: the Covenant celebrated by Israel as the Birth of the Nation, i.e., of Judaism).
When St Luke speaks of tongues of fire to represent the Holy Spirit, this Old Covenant is called to mind, established on the basis of the Law received by Israel on Sinai. Thus the event of Pentecost is represented as a new Sinai, as the gift of a new Covenant in which the Covenant with Israel was extended to all the peoples of the earth, in which all the barriers fall from the old Law and its heart appears holier and more unchangeable; in other words as love, which the Holy Spirit himself communicates and spreads, a love that embraces all things.
Did the Jewish people in Jerusalem that day understand all that was happening when the Spirit came upon them at Pentecost?
They knew it was their feast–one of three actually, in which they were required to go up to Jerusalem. It was the celebration of Shavuot (the Hebrew word for “weeks”), i.e., the Feast of Weeks.
Shavuot (Pentekoste in Greek, meaning the 50thday) was an annual feast, commemorating both the Giving of the Law through Moses on Mount Sinai (which occurred 50 days after the Passover) and the offering of the First Fruits of their wheat harvest.
Jerusalem would have been packedwith Jewish pilgrims from every corner of the known world – all speaking in their own tongue.
Saint Luke, who wrote the account of the Church’s beginning via the Book of Acts, describes the unfolding of this most glorious, life-changing day in the second chapter of Acts.
Can you just imagine what it would have been like to be there in Jerusalem that day when the Holy Spirit came down in tongues of fire?! Just the thought . . .
I don’t know what it would have been like to be in Jerusalem on that day, but I’ve imagined a conversation that could have taken place! It’s between two Jewish pilgrims, each from a different country, each speaking a different language, but both understanding the common Greek language of the day, so they were able to converse. They arrived in Jerusalem with the first fruits of their harvest and were looking forward to celebrating the anniversary of the Birth of their Nation and the Giving of the Torah.
I’ll call the two men Abe and Ruben. They’ll speak to each other in Greek, but we’ll imagine their conversation in English!
Hi my brother, I’m Abe.
Hello, I’m Ruben. Nice produce you have there.
Blessed be the Name (the Jewish way of referring to God). Oh, but to celebrate the Torah which HaShem (Hebrew for “the Name”) gave us – to know that we’re His People – such a blessing!
For sure, Abe.
But, let me ask you: Have you ever wondered what happened to the coming of Mashiach (Messiah)? We’ve waited, and waited, and waited.
Yes, of course I’ve wondered, many times. But God is faithful to His promises, dear brother. We need to keep waiting. If we give up, what do we have left?
Ruben, let me run this by you . . . that one named Yeshua (Jesus)?. . . He seemed to come on the scene from no where. He was just the son of a carpenter, not particularly impressive . . . except for the things he said. He made some incredible claims, you know.
Yes, I know – He said things that made him out to be God! If that doesn’t label him a madman, what does?
But he did things that only God can do, you know? Like healing a blind man, and a paralytic, and lepers. There are stories that he even raised people from the dead!
I know; I’ve heard them too. But the worse thing I heard is that he claimed that he and the Father were one. One, Abe. That’s the same as saying he is God. Yougotta have a lot of chutzpah to claim that – or not care about your life! That’s the height of blasphemy.
I know, Ruben. But still, some of us actually hoped that he was the Messiah. So many things seemed to fit – how he called himself the Son of David, how he rode into Jerusalem a couple of months ago on a donkey. Even I shouted “Hosanna to the Son of David; Hosanna in the highest.” I thought our problems were at an end, that, if he were the Messiah, he would set up his kingdom at last and our enemies would be defeated.
I know, Abe; it’s hard to have such hope stirred in the heart only to be disappointed. But you just can’t put your trust in a man.
Ruben, I know this sounds like I’m bordering on blasphemy, but I actually wonder what he meant when he said, “I and the Father are one.” I mean, what if? What if he was the Messiah? Couldn’t he be from God in a way we didn’t understand?
I suppose anything could be. But I think, dear Abe, that the case is settled now. He’s dead, remember? Remember how our own leaders called for his crucifixion? Don’t you think they have the wisdom of God?
And, further, if this Jesus were divine, or the true Messiah, do you think he would have let them nail him to a cross? Don’t you think he could have called ten thousand angels to save him? It just doesn’t make sense that the Messiah would come and then let his own people, or even the Romans, put him to death. Was the Messiah, the Hope of our People, to be so weak and vulnerable and subject to whoever came against him?
Well, I guess it’s all speculation now . . .
What was that??!!?
I don’t know! What a sound! Like a rushing wind. Something just happened to me; I can hear others around me as if they’re speaking my own language! I even feel different. What’s going on??
I don’t know, Ruben, but I’m experiencing the same thing! It’s gotta be some kind of phenomenon.
Look, Ruben! What ever has happened has happened to just about everyone.
What? (Abe responding to a stranger in their midst . . .) No, no, we’re not drunk; it’s only 9:00 a.m.!
Hey, there’s that fellow, Peter, who was one of Jesus’ disciples. Poor guy, if anyone hoped Jesus was the Messiah, it was him.
Wait, Abe–Peter is giving some kind of message to the crowd. Let’s listen in . . .
“Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day; but this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: `And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; yea, and on my menservants and my maidservants in those days I will pour out my Spirit . . . And it shall be that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs which God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know — this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. But God raised him up, having loosed the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it . . . “Brethren, I may say to you confidently of the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants upon his throne, he foresaw and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption.
This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this which you see and hear. For David did not ascend into the heavens; but he himself says, `The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, till I make thy enemies a stool for thy feet.’ Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
Abe, you’re not going to believe this, but I think what Peter is saying is true. I think I believe it – that this Jesus was – is! – the Messiah. I can hardly believe that I believe it, but I do!
So do I, Ruben. It’s amazing – no, it’s a miracle. Ruben, we–our People–killed the Messiah–our Messiah. He came to us, Ruben. He came at last. And we rejected Him.
We didn’t know it was Him. But Peter said that He’s alive, that God raised Him up, that death could not hold Him! Blessed be His Holy Name!.
And with the whole crowd they cried out, “Brethren, what shall we do?”
And Peter said to them,
“Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him.”
Ruben! I’m going to do it. I’m going to be a follower of Messiah, of Jesus. I’m going to be baptized!! Yipes!!
Wait up, Abe . . . I’m coming too!!
“So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And fear came upon every soul; and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common; and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (See Acts chapter 2 for the full story!)
Wow, Mother Miriam, I almost feel like I was there. All of a sudden I feel very special and very privileged that I also believe – just like your imaginary Abe and Ruben. Just like the thousands at Pentecost, God has given us His Spirit and has made us alive in Messiah Jesus.
How I wish the People of Israel today could see and believe.
Thousands do, dear Zelda, but the majority still do not. Faith is a gift. Many still try to keep the Law, but it is impossible for them to do so – not only because the Temple is no longer in place – but because the Law does not have within it the power to live it out; it could neversave. Saint Paul, a Jewish Pharisee prior to his conversion, who tried zealously to keep the Mosaic Law and who was converted soon after Pentecost, wrote: “God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: sending his own Son . . .” (Romans 8:3). “The Law,” he wrote elsewhere, “was our schoolmaster leading us to Christ” (Galatians 3:24).
God knew that Israel could not keep the Law in their own strength, and so promised, through their prophets, to send the Holy Spirit. Through Jeremiah, God said,
Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant which they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people (Jeremiah 31:31-33).
That is what happened at Pentecost. God called and formed His People Israel to be “a light to the nations,”that His salvation would reach to the ends of the earth (Isaiah 49:6). He told them, just prior to the Spirit’s outpouring on their Feast of Pentecost (Shavuot) that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon them, that they would be His witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
And they did receive power – beyond their dreams. Through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, they were empowered at last – by the Triune God of Abraham – to fulfill their calling to be a light to the nations.
And they have not failed– because God is faithful. The nations believe today – we believe today – because God was faithful to His promises to bring the Gospel and the Messiah to the nations through Israel. And it will be through our witness, says the Apostle Paul, that Israel, yet in the flesh, will be made jealous and come to know the Messiah they gave to the world.
As Pentecost, under the Old Covenant, commemorates the Giving of the Law on Mount Sinai and is considered the birth of Israel and of Judaism, and occurs 50 days after the Passover – so Christ, the Jewish Messiah, fulfilled the Law of Moses, poured out His Spirit on what became the birth of the Church (i.e., Israel fulfilled in its Messiah), and occurred 50 days after the Resurrection of the Passover Lamb (who is Christ).
As Israel offered to God the first fruits of its harvest on the Feast of Pentecost/Shavuot, Christ, in his rising from the dead, became the First Fruits of those who sleep (1 Corinthians 15:23).
It’s all too wonderful. When I think of how many times I’ve lost sight of the gift of faith, of the life we’ve been given . . . We have to tell the world, just as the first century Christians did.
I agree, dear Zelda, and I live for nothing else.