Acts 2:1-11/ John 20:19-23
The Christian Feast of Pentecost occurs 50 days after Easter. We find at least two versions of the Day of Pentecost as experienced by the disciples: an exciting and dramatic telling in Acts (Luke-Acts a two volume work), and a more intimate and in some ways more powerful telling in John. The John account takes place Easter Evening, the Acts account 50 days later.
I begin classes every day with a few minutes of centering prayer. We repeat a phrase several times, sit in silence, and then repeat the phrase again – a practice we learned in Seminary years ago from The Very Reverend James Fenhagen, Dean of GTS. This past week the phrase was from the Quran since we are studying Islam: “God invites you into the Home of Peace.” - Qu’ran 10:25 Yunus/Jonah
Here is it’s context in the Surah: “And know that all mankind were once but one single community, and only later did they begin to hold divergent views...and know that God invites us unto the abode of peace, and guides those that will to be guided onto a straight way.”
The Home of Peace, the abode of peace, “dar as-salam.” The Arabic “salam” is the Hebrew equivalent of “shalom.”
It helps to know that in Biblical Hebrew there is one word for breath, spirit and wind: ruach. It is this ruach that hovers or blows across the deep waters of creation in Genesis. In Genesis 2, God breathes ruach into a handful of dust to give life to the first person. That is, this Spirit-Breath-Wind of God has been around a long long time. And there is one word in the Koine Greek of the New Testament: pneuma. It is this pneuma that blows through the disciple’s household on that 50th day, alighting upon them with tongues as of fire, sending them out of the house into the streets of Jerusalem proclaiming the Good News.
Jesus utters much the same invitation as the Quran in John’s version of Pentecost as he breathes upon his disciples: “Peace/Shalom/Salam be with you.” As he breathes on them – much the same way God breathes into that handful of about to be human dust. It is no mistake that the fourth gospel begins with the first words of Genesis: In the beginning….
As he breathes on them Jesus utters this twice, which is the Bible’s way of adding emphasis - underline, italics, bold print! Shalom be upon you -enter into the abode, the household, of shalom!!
Muhammad Asad in his notes in The Message of the Qu’ran writes, “...dar as-salam denotes not only the condition of ultimate happiness in the hereafter....but also the spiritual condition of the true believer in this world: namely a state of inner security, of peace with God, with one’s natural environment, and within oneself.” n.40 to 10:25
This “inner security of peace with God” connotes a deep sense of social justice, respect for all people, dignity for every human being – in short, a world made right in accordance with the vision of life found in both the Quran and The Bible. And, as Asad explains, it means shalom or salam for one’s natural environment as well!
The disciples were in Jerusalem during the festival of Pentecost. Pentecost was a Jewish festival, fifty days after Passover. Originally a spring harvest festival it came to be a time to recall the gift of Torah, God’s Word, on Mount Sinai to the Hebrew slaves who were in the wilderness of the Sinai fifty days after their escape from Egypt.
Torah, The Qu’ran, The Gospels, all issue an invitation for people to return to the straight way, God’s way, Allah’s way – the way of peace, shalom, salam. And here we see God in Jesus starting, re-starting, creation all over again.
In Acts the disciples are pictured in a room in Jerusalem, just as in John. Earlier we are told that they are every day in the Temple praising and worshipping God. On the Feast of Pentecost they were suddenly visited by The Holy Spirit – God’s eternal Ruach! And they begin speaking – speaking in many many different languages.
At St. Timothy’s where I teach, we have girls from some 20 different countries. So in chapel I urged everyone to begin speaking at once in their own native language. It was fantastic! One hundred and fifty girls speaking in some 20 different languages all at once! I just needed to have some idea of what it must have sounded like in Jerusalem that 50th day after Passover and Easter! It sounded great!
The miracle, of course, is not that the disciples could speak in other languages. The miracle is that people understood them. People understood one another. This is probably the most difficult of all human tasks – to understand one another. Ask siblings, as husbands and wives, ask diplomats, as ball players and umpires! That day in Jerusalem people understood one another. This is undoubtedly a first step toward a world, a household of shalom/salam – which Asad extends to the “natural environment.” And why not? The words for household (oiko or eco) is the root for ecology as well – and in creating people in God’s own image we were given the task as God’s appointed stewards of the household of creation.
Of course no good deed goes unpunished! The disciples are accused of being drunk!
Peter says, “No no no! It is only nine in the morning! No this was spoken through the prophet Joel and will again be said by the prophet Muhammad, praise be upon him! I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh and your sons and your daughters shall .... see visions and dream dreams....and enter into the household of Peace, of Shalom, of justice and dignity and care and mercy and compassion for all people.....”
And this is the vision - this is dar as-salam. This is shalom. Shalom for one another. Shalom for the environment. Shalom for all. Peace be with you. When he said this he breathed on them.
His breath is spirit, his breath is life, his breath is like the wind carrying God’s shalom far and wide. “Receive the Holy Spirit!”
To receive anything, to really receive something, we need to be open. We need to open our hands and our hearts and our minds. To open one’s hands, heart and mind one needs to let go - let go of everything that prevents us from receiving.
To enter a mosque one takes off one’s shoes. For most of us this is a rule to be kept. For those Muslims who are Sufis it is a reminder - what do I need to remove, let go of, that separates my soul from God? What do I need to open in myself to receive God’s Shalom, God’s Peace, Allah’s Salam?
For it is in such letting go that we become closer to God, closer to creation, closer to others and closer to our very selves.
“There is a way of polishing all things whereby rust may be removed. That which polishes the heart is the invocation of Allah” One of whose 100 names is Salam, Shalom.
Pentecost – through the Ten Commandments, by his Holy Breath, calling to us from his Holy winds that blow across the face of the deep, by breathing upon us and whispering in our ears, God invites us into the home of Peace, the home of Shalom, dar as-Salam.