Magazine article The Christian Century

Windblown

Magazine article The Christian Century

Windblown

Article excerpt

Acts 2:1-11

IT WAS A GREAT day for multiculturalism. It was the Tower of Babel turned upside-down, and what fell out was a glorious manifestation of the grace of God. It was also a tough day for future lay readers: all those forbidding names--Parthians, Elamites, Mesopotamians, Cappadocians, Phrygians, Pamphyilians--that whole crowd. In Luke's geography they represented "every nation under heaven." Devout Jews of the Diaspora were gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate the 50th day after the consecration of the harvest and the Passover. Although bound by a common religious past, their languages and dialects were as diverse as those heard at Ellis Island in the early 1900s.

The surviving disciples of Jesus were there too. How they got to the head table Dr. Luke does not tell us, but there they were. Then something utterly wondrous happened. God happened. The symbols tell the story: wind and fire and Spirit! Suddenly the whole place was smoking, and the disciples began to look like so many oversized trick birthday candles, crowned with tongues of fire that even the mighty wind could not blow out. We are not told what they said in their Galilean, ex-fishermen, ex-tax collector brogues. We are told, however, of the greatest of all miracles: everyone in the house understood each other.

Some call Pentecost the "birthday of the church." I disagree. I sense that the church was born on Good Friday when Jesus, "just hanging around," as Robert Capon stunningly puts it, asked the Father to forgive us, and a few bewildered, broken-hearted women and men wandered off wondering how they were going to live with that. Pentecost was the day they got their answer: with great joy, and with wind and fire and Spirit, making them look like a bunch of happy drunks in the midst of a numbingly sober and sour world. At last they knew that they were God's--every last one of them--and that God was Love, not just in poetic theory but in palpable fact. They learned that in belonging to God they belonged also to each other. The joy derived from their trusting contained power, power not only to gladden but also to heal and redeem.

In today's world, especially in our anxious Western culture, we seem hell-bent on happiness and on any shortcut that can get us there. Generally we seek a happiness that is a far cry from what went on that day of Pentecost. The 16th chapter of John's Gospel clarifies the difference. In Jesus' long, beautiful farewell to his disciples, he tells them that he must go away and leave them and that they will be sorrowful. Then he adds: "but your sorrow will turn into joy. …

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