“They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” – Acts 2: 42
Pentecost was an ancient Jewish harvest festival. Spring comes early to the Mediterranean. Fifty days after Passover, the first crops of the new year were offered to God. The regulations for the festival are set out in the 23rd charter of Leviticus. Jewish pilgrims from all over the world gathered in Jerusalem to observe Pentecost; “there were dwelling at Jerusalem, Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven,” says our Sunday’s Epistle lesson.
The offerings of Pentecost; lambs, and kids, and loaves of bread: were signs and tokens of the gratitude and faithfulness of God’s people. They were signs of obedience to God’s commandments. It was a festival in which God was worshiped as the author of “every good and perfect gift.”
In this setting of the Festival of Pentecost, the Christian Church was born. In an upper room, at Jerusalem, the small band of disciples awaited the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise of the Comforter. St. Luke describes the scene in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles:
And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
Wind and fire are ancient symbols of divine power and presence – The Breath of God, moving over the waters of chaos, producing the forms of life; breathing into lifeless clay, bringing forth a living soul; the breath of God in the Valley of Dry Bones, making those dry bones live. The fire of God: the refining and consuming fire of God’s wrath and God’s love, “A rushing mighty wind…and cloven tongues, like as of fire,” these are the mystical symbols of God’s coming in power.
Pentecost is for us a kind of harvest festival, an offering of the first fruits, The Word of God, sown in our hearts and minds, by the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit, is brought to fruition, and we offer up to God the first fruits of the grace which He has given us.