Scripture for this Sunday: Acts 2.1-21; John 20.19-23
During the traditional procession of the Via Crucis, or Way of the Cross, through Es Castell a few years ago, I found myself disturbed by the way that there were people in cafes and bars, or on the streets, either oblivious to what was passing, or just disinterested. But upon reflection, it occurred to me that this was almost certainly the way things were when Jesus carried his cross to Calvary – in a busy city, it was just another Roman execution.
The same was almost certainly true of the first Pentecost. A group of Galileans speaking in a public place would not necessarily have garnered much attention – although the language factor would have made a difference. Those who live in Menorca will know how quickly our ears pick up English being spoken – and this would have captured the attention of those around.
What were the disciples saying? “Speaking about God’s deeds of power,” as Luke records in the Acts of the Apostles covers quite a lot of territory. We don’t actually know, but we might reasonably assume that the experience of the resurrection of Jesus would have been high on the list of God’s deeds of power.
We may gather three things from this. First, that God puts considerable effort into reaching out to humanity, as demonstrated in the tearing of the temple curtain at the crucifixion, and the elimination of language barriers at Pentecost. Michelangelo captured this willingness of God to reach out to humanity when decorating the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Look carefully at the way that the artist, who had an excellent grasp of human physiology, depicts God’s straining limbs, stretching to reach out to touch Adam, the primary human, who is rather languidly and limply extending a hand in response. The artist knew human nature as well as physiology.
Secondly, the life of faith has to be lived against a background of distracted and distracting disinterest. Life goes on around the life of faith, sometimes oblivious to it, sometimes just not bothered.
Thirdly, we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit for a reason, just as the people of Israel were given the Law at Sinai (which is what the Jewish Pentecost, or Shavuot, celebrates), for a reason. Jewish teaching is that the giving of the Law was the culmination of the journey from slavery to freedom – but freedom with responsibility to live according to God’s will.
Similarly, the Christian Pentecost celebrates the liberation of Christ’s people to accept the responsibility to live out Christ’s teaching. God encourages us both to hear “deeds of power,” and to be part of a community of faith that seeks to be agents of more of those deeds. We have to do so in a world that often doesn’t really notice or care – but that actually does need our faith, in prayer and action, as shown in the way we speak and behave.