Today, Christian believers throughout the world celebrate the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Mary and the Apostles in the famed Upper Room of Jerusalem. This Pentecostal event is revered as the birthday of the Church, since the sending of the Holy Spirit empowered Church leadership to leave their hiding place and boldly preach the Good News of Jesus Christ in the Holy City and throughout the word.
The action is seen as healing Babel, sealing the covenant of a New Exodus, and marking the return of the Spirit, whom the Prophet Ezekiel saw depart at the destruction of Solomon’s Temple by the Babylonian Empire.
Each of these declarations require an explanation, and each of them have an important application for us today.
In the mysterious pre-history period of the Bible, contained in Genesis 1-11, we hear of the story of the Tower of Babel. In the figurative language of this narrative, the account is given of a united humanity with a single language.
Humanity, however, seeks to overthrow God by building a tower high into the heavens. God tears down the structure and disperses the human race into different tribes and languages. The contemporary dismissal of someone who “babels,” namely, speaking in a confused manner, comes from this event.
At Pentecost, however, many languages were spoken but everyone understood one another. In this way, Pentecost becomes a celebration of a unity in diversity. It’s a model of pluralism within a shared worldview of goodness.
As opinions differ about healthcare and immigration and as public policies are debated in our society, the Holy Spirit -and the faith he prompts – offers us a single voice of compassion, mercy, and a love that is patient and kind, never boastful or rude.
In this way, the Spirit shows us the way to solidarity and harmony.
In the Book of Exodus, the account is given of God ransoming his people from Egyptian slavery. He led them through the Red Sea and fifty days later on Mount Sinai, he ratified their liberation with a covenant and moral code. This event on the fiftieth day came to be called “Pentecost” since the word simply means “the fiftieth day.”
Fifty days after the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Spirit of God fell upon Mary and the Apostles. The timing of the occurrence is seen as the revelation of a new Pentecost as the Holy Spirit confirms and broadens God’s work with a new and everlasting covenant.
Rather than the saving of one people from an earthly tyrant, this new exodus is a freedom from darkness and is open to all men and women of every people and nation. Again, the Spirit directs us to universality, an inclusiveness that is based on goodness, and an authentic multiculturalism.
In the Book of Ezekiel, the prophet sees the Spirit leave the earth. In the Christian Pentecost, the Spirit returns to the human family. The prophet foreshadowed this return and spoke of a new law that is written – not on tablets of stone – but on the human heart.
The Holy Spirit shows us the more excellent way of love and, through this way, he manifests the deepest desires of our heart for personal righteousness, acceptance, and heartfelt welcome. These inclinations of our heart are shared by all people and their fulfillment lead us to a flourishing and edifying community life.
And so, yes, the Spirit once again leads us to a holistic sense of our own humanity. He reveals to us our mutual identity as participants in a shared nature as human beings, and as children of God.
In each of these three typologies in Christian theology, the power of the Holy Spirit is emphasized. In particular, these accounts stress the Spirit’s work among us in gathering us from fragmentation, summoning us together in righteousness, and nurturing a godly community among us.
In these ways, as much as we might disagree and debate one another, the feast of Pentecost serves as a reminder of our deep need for each other. Pentecost shows us a greater source of unity and can revive a desire for it in each of us.
And so, let the tongues of fire fall, and let diverse groups and peoples of all sorts reconvene and let unity and goodness prevail among us.