The Jewish feast of Pentecost, also known as the Feast of Weeks, originally celebrated the spring harvest. It was a pilgrimage festival that took place 50 days after the end of Passover. By the time of Jesus Pentecost was also celebrated as a joyous remembrance of the giving of the law at Sinai. Seen together, the two aspects of the Jewish festival give thanks to God for feeding both body and spirit. The Christian commemoration of Pentecost would adopt and transform these two elements.
The first Christian celebration of Pentecost took place as the believers came to terms with the reality and resonance of Christ’s absence and simultaneous presence among them, but also in the midst of their unity, since they were still “all together in one place.” In the Gospel of John, Jesus promised his apostles that “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.” It was during their Pentecost gathering that the church, the body of Christ, experienced the reality that Jesus had promised them prior to his ascension, when the Spirit came upon them in wind, fire and voice.
The gift of the Holy Spirit that the church experienced was a sign that the promises of the prophets had come to fruition through the mission of the Messiah Jesus. As Jesus was now enthroned at the right hand of God, the coming of the Spirit indi cated not just the fruits of salvation given to each Christian, but the church as the means by which this salvation would be made known in the world. At its core the communion of the Holy Spirit is eccle sial and essential for the church to fulfill its own earthly mission.
At Pentecost the body of believers began to restore the unity intended for humanity. In a sort of reversal of the story of the Tower of Babel, each believer spoke a spiritu al language that Jews from all over the world heard in their own language. The Spirit spoke a language that allowed the church to envision a future in which all humanity is brought to a true worship of God. Like the law given at Sinai to feed the people of Israel, at this new Pentecost God gave the Holy Spirit to the church to feed the body of Christ.
Though the Holy Spirit does not always come in manifestations of ecstasy, which the people of Jerusalem wrote off as drunkenness, the Holy Spirit is always present. The Apostle Paul concentrates on the multifaceted and multi-gifted nature of the church. At the heart of the Spirit’s gift is the foundational proclamation that “Jesus is Lord” because this witness binds us together as members of Christ’s body, whoever we are and from wherever we come, for we have all been “baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”
Even more, by virtue of our drinking of the one Spirit, we are united in the body of Christ through our diversity of gifts. It seems counterintuitive,but it is not. Unity is opposed to uniformity, diversity to division. The church must be united and diverse, which gives us all access to the deep well of the Spirit’s variety of gifts. As Paul says, not all will speak in tongues; but each gift, which is in reality each unique person, is essential to the church. In a fallen world of bullying, ostracism and fear, people can fall away from community and into loneliness, but the church must be a bulwark against these wounds to the body of humanity and the body of Christ. Each of us has a spiritual gift to offer to the church, for Paul tells us that “to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” It is our ecclesial task, as a people reborn in the Spirit, not just to feed the world with our own gifts but to open our eyes to the gifts of the Spirit, which God has given to and activates in every person, that we might be fed by our brothers and sisters for whom we have not yet found a place at the table.