Lent leads to Easter, and Eastertide leads to Pentecost. These forty and fifty day seasons set the context for Christian faith individually and in community. As we know, the first half of the Christian year, which tells the story of the coming of Jesus, drives the second half, guided by the Spirit.
It is no secret that Pentecost is my favorite liturgical holiday! I am fascinated by the rather chaotic portrayal in Acts—rushing wind, tongues of fire, speech in varied languages—all signs of the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit. While the Spirit has been a part of God’s self-communication to the world since the beginning of creation, there is a new outpouring of the Spirit, associated with the Risen Christ, which the narrative of Pentecost seeks to describe.
Today marks the beginning of Shavuot, the commemoration of the giving of Torah to Israel at Mt. Sinai. It is also associated with the time of harvest and, appropriately, the Book of Ruth is a part of synagogue readings. Pentecost, meaning “fiftieth day” (in Greek) following Passover, is thus a propitious time for birthing the church; yet it is important to remember its Jewish heritage.
Just as Ruth was made a part of the historic people of God, so these gathered in Jerusalem for the festival from Mesopotamia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Libya, Cappadocia, etc., are welcomed as God’s own, also (Acts 2:8-11). The Spirit prompts an ever-widening understanding of God’s desire to include.
Giving instruction through Scripture and giving the abiding presence of God’s Spirit to empower fulfillment of instruction must go together. One of the enduring practices of Shavuot is round-the-clock reading of Torah. Christians might well emulate this tradition—a sort of a scholarly lock-in! It is not wise to read Scripture unaccompanied; we need both the community and the Spirit to read faithfully.
The coming of the Spirit, with power, fulfills the promise of God never “to leave us or forsake us” (Deuteronomy 31:6; Joshua 1:5; Hebrews 13:5). It also encourages perseverance in following the guidance of Scripture. Receiving holy power through God’s Spirit propels us to walk in the wisdom of our Jewish forebears; it also inspires respectful conversation with these members of God’s first covenantal people today.
Molly T. Marshall
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