The beginning of Pentecost is recorded in the book of Acts. The disciples of Jesus were gathering together on the day of Pentecost when: "Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them." - Acts 2:2-4|
The name comes from the Greek pentekoste, "fiftieth". Pentecost is the day that the church was born. In Christian tradition, Pentecost brings the 50-day Easter season to a close. The symbols of Pentecost are those of the Holy Spirit and include flames, wind, the breath of God and a dove. Pentecost comes from a Jewish harvest festival called Shavuot. The apostles were celebrating this festival when the Holy Spirit descended on them.
On that day, the Holy Spirit came to fill believers. Jesus had ascended, but he sent the Holy Spirit so that believers could have the comfort, guidance, and empowerment of God's presence. It sounded like a very strong wind, and it looked like tongues of fire. The apostles then found themselves speaking in foreign languages, inspired by the Holy Spirit. People passing by at first thought that they must be drunk, but the apostle Peter told the crowd that the apostles were full of the Holy Spirit.
There is a vocal exercise I recall learning during my time as a chorister. It involves taking a deep breath and sighing. Take a moment to breathe deeply and sigh. This warm-up is a great stress reliever that helps one relax and become centered before getting up to sing. Breathing deeply and becoming grounded at the center of our souls is essential for the journey of discipleship with Jesus Christ. Jesus speaks of the Spirit as truth and as the One who helps us live the truth. On the feast of Pentecost, the Spirit reminds us that we speak the truth from the center of our being.
Awhile back, I recall visiting with a family whose mother was diagnosed with cancer and was terminal. She had endured a great deal. She was ready to go to God, and her family was ready to let her go. As I sat and held her hand, I prayed quietly with her, feeling overwhelmed by the sacred gift of life I held in my hands. I prayed too about the incredible mystery of life and death and yet in order to embrace eternal life, we must die. A profound mystery beyond words. As I prayed, I sensed in the room a tremendous amount of love and an incredible amount of faith among her family, and her friends. I also felt sadness and loss. But I did not sense fear at all. There was no fear. Over all this I felt the Spirit of peace. The gifts of the Spirit, as spoken in Paul's Letter to the Galatians, were truly present among her family. On the feast of Pentecost, the Spirit reminds us that we are never alone and that God is stronger than death.
Pentecost culminates our ninety days of the Lenten, Triduum, and Easter season with the gift of the Holy Spirit. As we move into Ordinary Time and continue the journey of discipleship, we are reminded once again that the Spirit of God is always with us; we are never alone. The Spirit breathes within us and helps us speak and live the truth. Like those early disciples, the Spirit gives us courage to speak boldly of God's deeds of power and goodness. On the feast of Pentecost, we are called to embrace the gifts of the Spirit. For Jesus promises us that we are never alone on our journey of faith.
So, as we gather around the Eucharistic table, let us breathe deeply of God, giving thanks to God who is stronger than any sickness or death. As we celebrate this great feast day, perhaps we should ask ourselves how we are exercising the gifts of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Let us use this time to ask God to fill us anew with the Holy Spirit so that our lives may be truly become witnesses to His Gospel.
Rev'd Fr. Colin Humes