Pentecost - The 50th Day after the Resurrection
Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:25-35; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13; John 20:19-23 or John 7:37-39
OK. Pentecost is the 50th day after the day of the resurrection. Seven weeks of seven days. The 50th day represents a new beginning - it is the day the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples - the day they were able to proclaim the good news in the streets of Jerusalem in ways that everyone could understand. As a result, we are told, thousands joined the new emerging community of those who followed Jesus. That is, they were all beginning a new life, living out of a new paradigm or world view. So this is a feast of new beginnings, underscoring the theological idea that always we begin again.
It is tied to the events reported in Acts chapter 2 as the disciples and companions were in Jerusalem to celebrate the already existing Jewish feast of Pentecost (its Greek name meaning 50th day), or its more familiar name Shavuot. Shavuot commemorates the day God gave the Torah to the new nation of Israel at Mount Sinai. It was celebrated 50 days after Passover, the day the people of Israel were freed from slavery under the empire of Pharaoh. It also marked the conclusion of the Counting of Omer. On the day after Passover an omer of barley was offered at the Jerusalem temple marking the beginning of the grain harvest. On Pentecost an offering of wheat, specifically two loaves of bread, were offered to celebrate the end of the grain offering.
So before this remarkable event among the disciples, Pentecost already commemorated the endlessly generous gifts from God of freedom, grain and Torah, God’s Word. Now was added to these was the gift of the Spirit.
It is odd that the seventh chapter of John seems to suggest that there was a time without this Spirit - that until Jesus is “is glorified” there was no gift of the spirit. This is difficult to understand since the author of John goes to great pains to make sure the reader knows that before time itself, before creation, there was the Word, the logos, which was in fact the animating spirit of all creation. By starting the gospel with the words, “In the beginning...” we are to recall Genesis, which in chapter two depicts God, Yahweh, Elohim, scooping up a handful of moistened dust and breathing ruach, breath, wind and spirit into the dust resulting in the first person - Adam, made of atham, or earth. John knows there is ruach at work throughout creation and focuses our attention on that very fact in the opening poetry of the fourth gospel.
So it is not as if the disciples in Jerusalem for the festival of Pentecost-Shavuot were not already enlivened by God’s spirit - or that there really was a time in human history without this animating Ruach Elohim - but that this new outpouring of God’s animating spirit, breath and wind was at work doing a new thing, enlivening a people to become a new people, just as the slaves in Pharaoh’s empire were remade into a new people Israel with the outpouring of God’s Torah, God’s word and God’s law.
At that very time the disciples were finding new ways to proclaim the good news two loaves of bread, the offering of wheat, was being presented at the temple to a kohen, or cohen, a priest. I find myself thinking about those two loaves.
A loaf of bread is central to the weekly Sabbath meal in Judaism, central to the passover meal as unleavened bread, and central to the weekly remembrance of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus in Christian Sunday worship.
I cannot help but wonder if there is not one loaf for the community of Abraham and Moses, and one loaf for the community of Jesus. Sure, I am just making this up, but....I cannot help but wonder if an opportunity was not missed?
What if those same disciples, who knew that two loaves were at that very moment on that very day were being offered at the Jerusalem Temple, and those Israelites celebrating the grain harvest and giving of the Torah on Sinai, what if they had all had a moment of insight to look at those two loaves and see - see that there is a loaf for us and a loaf for you. Here is a loaf for Israel and a loaf for the church. That here is a symbol of faith that can unite us rather than divide us.
The Ruach Elohim, the Spirit of God is God himself.
What if we like Elihu in the book of Job could say to ourselves every day, “But truly it is the Spirit in a mortal, the breath of the Almighty, that makes for understanding...The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life...See, before God I am as you are; I too was formed from a piece of clay.” Job 32:8, 33:4,6
Might we, as Paul asserts in the twelfth chapter of 1 Corinthians and in Galatians, become neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Taoist, you name it - might we not one day come to see what Elihu says, and Genesis says, that “I am as you are”?
For isn’t this in the end what the day of Pentecost, the 50th day, the first day after seven weeks of seven days, really all about? Coming to an understanding that comes from the very breath of the Almighty that we are all One as the Lord God Almighty is One? As the one time columnist in my hometown Chicago Daily News once put it, “I may be wrong but I doubt it!”
Let us think about, contemplate and meditate on those two loaves of bread. How might history have changed had we shared those two loaves? How might history be changed if we begin to share them right now?
They are given. Just as the Ruach Elohim is given to everyone of us. Just as the grain is given to us and by us as a reminder of where we all come from. I am as you are. I too was formed from a piece of clay! Alleluia!
Let the people say, Amen.