Today is a day to celebrate, and rightly so. From the urgent and earth-shattering messages by way of the Son of God, a small group of students were charged with spreading the Word: Go and tell. Go and make disciples. Go and baptize. And on this day, less than two months out from the resurrection, something astonishing happened. Just as the baptism of Jesus symbolized a healing closure to the Flood, the understanding of many languages on Pentecost symbolized a healing closure to the Tower of Babel. Where once God caused misunderstanding and disunity, on this day God brought understanding and unity. It is absolutely a day to celebrate!
But something tells us that “celebrate” wasn’t exactly what those gathered in that room were thinking about. “Terrifying” might be a more appropriate word. “Shocking,” perhaps. “Mysterious.” Anything but a celebration.
They all were gathered in one place, and something that felt like a hurricane blew into the room. This was before the days of window glass – a “window” was no more than an open space in the stone of a house. So the wind blew straight in, unhindered, probably sounding like a freight train. Dishes went flying, robes flapped and tore, some people were probably knocked off their feet. And on the heels of this mighty wind, tongues divided like fire popped up over the heads of the disciples. And when the astonished crowd opened their mouths to say, “What is this?” what came out was speaking in tongues, led by the Holy Spirit.
This is probably not what the disciples were looking for when Jesus promised them a Holy Spirit, an Advocate. This is shocking, disruptive, and frightening. Something tells me that after such an experience, your life is changed forever. Once you have lived through something like this, you are never the same.
And that is the point. That is why we celebrate. Because on this day, the church was born. On this day, eleven students of an itinerant rabbi who had taught his followers for only a few years were filled with the Holy Spirit, turned upside down, turned inside out, changed utterly. On that day, the Scriptures tell us,
Now when they heard this, they said to Peter and to the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’ Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.’ And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
This day, this festival day, this day of celebration – this is the day that the lives of all believers were turned inside out and upside down. This is the day that God, working through the Holy Spirit, took several thousand people who were individuals, turned inward, thinking of themselves and their needs, and their concerns, and made of them a people, a community, turned outward, thinking of their relationships and their neighbors, and the needs and concerns of others. As the baptism of Jesus signaled a healing closure to the anger of the Flood; as the understanding at Pentecost signaled a healing closure to the disunity of the Tower of Babel, so this formation of community, this binding together and making of a way of living, signals a healing closure for God’s chosen people.
Many thousands of years previously, God, through Moses, led his people out of slavery in Egypt into the desert, where they wandered for forty years. When God brought them out of Egypt, they were a collection of individuals. During their time in exile, God showed them how to be a community. What does that mean? It means they were bound together, as the ligament binds bone to bone. The root word that gives us ligament is the same root that gives us religion. Religion is meant to bind us together. God first showed God’s people how to be a community – and then showed them how to be a religious community, a community of faith.
And this is what God is showing the disciples, and the others gathered in that room, and the several thousand who were baptized – that when the Holy Spirit blows into your life, nothing is ever the same. And that’s a cause for celebration.