First, the disciples had their hopes kindled by their leader, the confounding and sometimes frightening enigma of the man from Nazareth.
Then they had to live with fear, despair, and self-recrimination when Jesus was taken from them, crucified, and buried.
Then the befuddlement of Easter morning, and finally, the joy — and what joy it must have been! — of reunion.
Then, he left them again, ascending into the clouds from the hills of Bethany. But the disciples were not bereft this time; they returned to Jerusalem with joy and praise (Luke 24:50-53; Acts 1:9). On and off, they had had forty days together between Easter and the Ascension, during which they fellowshipped together and Jesus continued to teach them about the kingdom (Acts 1:3-4). And perhaps most importantly, he instructed them to stay in Jerusalem, because soon, the Holy Spirit would come upon them, empowering them to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth (vss. 5, 8).
They didn’t have long to wait.
Today is Pentecost, from the Greek word meaning “fiftieth.” On the Jewish calendar, Pentecost marks the harvest festival, commemorating the giving of the commandments fifty days after Passover, the night the Israelites left Egypt. On the Christian calendar, it marks the giving of the Holy Spirit fifty days after Easter:
When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak. (Acts 2:1-4, CEB)
A crowd quickly gathered. When the people heard the disciples speaking in their own native tongues, languages that would have been unknown to Galileans, some marveled, and some accused them of being drunk (vss. 5-13). But Peter then stood and preached the gospel — and 3,000 new followers of Jesus were baptized (vs. 41).
Not bad for a first sermon.
I am keenly aware of the fact that as I blog my way through Second Corinthians, I am right at that place where Paul talks about God’s new covenant in the Holy Spirit. And I also know that for many Christians — sometimes myself included — the Holy Spirit is nearly an afterthought to the Christian life or the life of the church. Some fear what might happen if God’s Spirit were truly to be let loose in a local congregation, and not without some justification, if the instructions in Paul’s earlier letter to the Corinthians are taken at face value (e.g., 1 Cor 14:23).
But on this day of all days, we must remind ourselves: there is no church, at least not one that could be called the Body of Christ, without the Holy Spirit. I have sometimes said that while the Book of Acts has only 28 chapters, we are living in chapter 29 (or if you like, 29,000). The story of what God was doing at Pentecost, and later in Corinth, is our story too: messy, unpredictable, glorious. Somehow, Paul is confident that the Spirit is working in the church, even one as conflicted and clueless as Corinth.
When we look around at our brothers and sisters, indeed, when we look in the mirror at ourselves, can we share that confidence?