TODAY Christians all over the world celebrate the festival of the Pentecost. The English word "pentecost" is derived from the New Testament Greek word "pentecostes" meaning "fiftieth" or the festival of the fiftieth day. The ancient Israelite people used to offer new harvest for forty-nine days after the Passover feast as a mark of their gratefulness to God for the harvest.
The number seven is a number of completeness of perfection in the Bible. So the people offered harvests for seven weeks. This function reached its climax on the fiftieth day observed with extra festivities and rituals. There are narratives concerning the festival in the Old Testament books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. On this day the Jews also commemorated on this day the giving of the Law by God to Moses on Mount Sinai.
The New Testament book of The Acts of the Apostles describes a unique event of greatest significance in the life of the Christian church; in fact this event marks the beginning of the Church. Acts describes that when the diaspora Jews from as many as fourteen nationalities gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate the feast of Pentecost and when the first disciples of Christ were praying to God, the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples in the form of tongues of fire and empowering them to speak in tongues and magnifying God's name in an unprecedented way. Christ had promised them that they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit when he would be in heaven. So the Holy Spirit came and gave the handful of followers of Christ to perform miracles and witness to Christ as a result of which many came to believe in Christ. Thus the Church was initiated.
The feast of the Pentecost in the Old Testament religion was the last part of the harvest festival. But it turned out to be the beginning of the life and witness of the Christians. On the fiftieth day following the resurrection of Christ from the dead the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples as the greatest single gift of God to empower them to testify to what God has done in Christ for the salvation of mankind from the bondage of sin. In order for the followers of Christ to be change agents for others they first themselves needed to be changed and transformed. The Holy Spirit entirely changed their attitude and life and they were able to perform great miracles in Christ's name and were successful and authentic witness to God's work of salvation wrought in Jesus Christ.
Each year Pentecost comes with its call to believers to believe in the power of the Holy Spirit and rededicate their lives for preaching the Good News through word, deed, sign, and life. The first disciples were able to become the vehicles of Christ's love and compassion for a sin-sick world. Today we are reminded of this glorious beginning of the Church, which over the last two millennia has passed through a chequered history of successes and failures, of light and darkness, of glory and ignominy. It became a human enterprise only with agenda for mere temporal goals.
As we celebrate the giving of the Holy Spirit we need to capture the vision for the Church to impact the world by Christ's teaching. But, unfortunately, in general we have been impacted by the world and its ways. Let us remember what John the Baptist said about Jesus Christ while he was preparing the way for the latter: “I baptise you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire."
Christ calls his followers with the challenge of denying themselves for the sake of Christ's work of preaching the Gospel of transformation of lives. This requires the power and quickening of God's spirit. Before he ascended to heaven Christ asked his disciples to wait for the promise of the spirit so that they could do miracles, cast out demons, give sight to the blind, heal the sick, bring hope to the hopeless, cast out demons out of the demon-possessed people, and thereby incarnate the gospel. So they did receive the Holy Spirit and fulfilled in their lives all that they were called to do and as a result of their preaching the Church grew.
But that glorious day did not last for long. The Church, in general terms, got entangled with worldliness, bad politics and the like. It lost its God-given vision for a world where justice and peace and universal brotherhood under One God the Father of all would prevail. It appeared to be often milling around like the Israelites in the wilderness because of lack of trust in and obedience to God.
Remember, the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples on that great day of Pentecost in the form of flames of fire (but it was not fire in the physical sense). Fire purifies and renews. So the descending of the Spirit signified the purification and a renewal of the lives and attitude of the disciples. As God is pure, holy and righteous so His ambassadors needed to be like Him.
That's how also God wrote down in their hearts His law of holy love for all mankind. Christ himself was led by the Spirit to the wilderness to be tested by the devil after he had fasted for long forty days and forty nights. Born of the virgin Mary by the power of the Spirit Jesus did everything in the same power. Although the unique event of Pentecost was a once-and-for-all pouring out of the Spirit in history the promise of the baptism of the Spirit was to be extended and carried on. This needs to be experienced and incarnated in real life situation. This is because it is the Holy Spirit which brings God home to us. The Spirit is our teacher and mentor within us.
Today the entire human family seems to be without a clear vision. There appears to be tensions and conflicting claims in every area in our lives, corporate or individual. We are perhaps milling around with our own lost visions or goals. This seems to be true with individuals and nations. We need to catch the ethico-spiritual values of religion. Otherwise, our mere dogmas will not help us in creating environment for lasting solutions to human crises. We need today to remind ourselves of the Golden Rule in the Bible as taught by Jesus: "So in everything, do to others what you would have them to do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets."
Perhaps the call of the Pentecost is clear enough: we need to turn to the One Universal God, who is love and who is spirit. No flesh can find true meaning of life without the gift of His touch. May we celebrate in His spirit and power for our renewal.