“And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:3-4)
Today is Pentecost Day. Pentecost (a word which means fifty) was already an established annual feast celebrated by the Jews fifty days after the feast of Passover. In Leviticus 23:16-17, Moses instructed the Israelites saying: “Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath; then you shall present a cereal offering of new grain to the Lord. You shall bring from your dwellings two loaves of bread to be waved, made from two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour; they shall be baked with leaven, for first fruits to the Lord.”
The feast of Pentecost usually attracted devout jews from all over the world to Jerusalem who would come to present our cereal offerings and first fruits to God. Our first reading today states: “Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven.” (Acts 2:5) It was during the celebration of Pentecost that the Holy Spirit, as if to take advantage of the large number of visitors, descended mightily upon the Church. As we reflect on this event, we shall now consider some vital lessons for us today.
1. The Sound of the Holy Spirit Church is Birth-Cry of the Church.
The first point we note about the Holy Spirit is that upon descending on the Church, He announced His presence loudly. You cannot receive the Holy Spirit without the world knowing it. As St. Paul told Timothy, the Holy Spirit is not a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power… (2 Timothy 1:7). In today’s first reading we read: “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.” (Acts 2:1-2)
Like a baby held firmly in its mother’s womb, so was the Church before the day of Pentecost. In today’s Gospel passage, we read that the disciples were in the habit of locking up themselves where they were for fear of the Jews. (Cf. John 20:19). Just as a baby would give a loud cry at birth, on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came with a sound loud enough that all the residents of Jerusalem could hear.
Hence, it would not be out of place for us to describe today’s celebration as the birthday of the Church. And like every birthday, it calls for double thanksgiving on our part; double, because the original idea of the feast of Pentecost was to offer our first fruits to God (thanking God for fruitfulness) and secondly, because today is our birthday as a Church – today we transited from being a small group of believers locked up in fear to such a great army of believers ready to go out into the whole world to proclaim the goodness of God.
2. The Holy Spirit is not a Spirit of Chaos.
Being loud is not necessarily the same thing as being disorganized. St. Paul would say: “If, therefore, the whole church assembles and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are mad?… If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn; and let one interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silence in church and speak to himself and to God.” (1 Corinthians 14:23-28). This is where many Christians today miss the mark. As I mentioned earlier, you cannot receive the Holy Spirit without the world knowing it but then, the loudness of the Holy Spirit is calculated, intelligible and focused.
First, the sound that came from heaven like a rush of a mighty wind was aimed at drawing the attention of people to the fact that something was happening; it was CALCULATED. It was necessary to attract the crowd because it was the will of God for the disciples to “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matt 28:19-20)
Secondly, upon receiving the Holy Spirit, the believers manifested it by speaking in tongues – not gibberish but INTELLIGIBLE sounds. They were not merely speaking whatever came to their minds, they spoke in the tongues of those who had come to Jerusalem. In Acts 2:6-8 we read: “When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language?”
Thirdly, when the Holy Spirit possesses a person, it is never for that person’s own aggrandizement, rather it makes the person FOCUS on God. It would be a contradiction for anyone to be puffed up with pride or begin to look down on others on account of the Holy Spirit. In simple terms, you do not receive the Holy Spirit only for yourself – you receive the Holy Spirit to praise God and get others too to praise God. As our first reading today says: “we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” (Acts 2:12).
As I noted above, today is a day for double thanksgiving and one of the easiest way to give thanks to God is singing praises to God; that is, declaring the wonders of God from the depths of your heart in your language and the language of everyone around you.
3. Speaking in Tongues is not the Only Manifestation of the Holy Spirit
For many Christians, you cannot have the Holy Spirit in you and yet not speak in tongues but this is very far from the truth. Speaking in tongues is only one our of the many possible manifestations of the Holy Spirit. This is where our second reading today comes in. St. Paul says: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (1 Corinthians 12:4-7).
What is the essence of speaking in tongues if there is no love in our hearts? What is the essence of shouting and jumping in the church if upon going back to our homes, we bear grudges, think evil thoughts, and allow sin dominate our lives? If the gift of speaking in tongues was necessary on the day of Pentecost to aid the spread of the Gospel to the ends of the earth, I believe that what we need most today in Nigeria, (a country at the brink of destruction because of corruption at all levels) is the gift of telling the truth and acting according to our conscience. Elections are just around the corner again and so many lies are flying about. Let us ask the Holy Spirit to work in us and through us to avoid making the same mistakes over again.
4. The Holy Spirit Brings Unity and Peace.
St. Paul tells us that “just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:12-13) The Holy Spirit is a uniting force. We cannot have the Holy Spirit within us and yet fail to recognize one another as brothers and sisters; children of one God. The language of the Holy Spirit is the language of love; it is a universal language, it is the language of oneness
Finally, coming to our Gospel passage we see Jesus saying “Peace be with you” three times to his disciples before proceeding to say “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Knowing that the number three is very significant, I am sure that with this action, Jesus was passing a message – peace comes first; peace is important; peace is essential for the Holy Spirit to come; to have peace is to have a room where the Holy Spirit can dwell. I pray for you today that you may have peace of mind; that you may be so filled with peace that the Holy Spirit will come into you. Peace be with you. Peace be with you. Peace be with you.
Let us pray: Come Holy Spirit and fill the hearts of the faithful and enkindle in us the fire of your love. Amen.
Bible Study: Acts 2:1-11, Ps. 104:1,24,29-31,34, 1 Cor. 12:3-7,12-13, John 20:19-23)
© Rev. Fr. Evaristus Abu