Day of Pentecost
May 27, 2012
We celebrate the Pentecostal experience as the event that led to the formation of the Church. The Apostles are gathered in Jerusalem to observe the Jewish feast of the Pentecost. It is about a month since the risen Christ appeared to them. They are seized by a mystical experience: tongues of fire convey to them the Holy Spirit and lead them to speak in various languages. This is not “speaking in tongues,” but speaking in established national languages recognized by the crowd. The curse of the Tower of Bable is reversed—a symbolic vision of the unity of humankind. When onlookers decide the apostles are drunk, Peter rises to explain. He quotes Joel 2:28-32 on the anticipated parusia, the day of judgement.
I like the part Peter quotes about old men who shall dream dreams. I once had a dream of God. I had sat up most of the night with my cat, who was dying of an incurable disease. He was in pain, poor creature. Anyway, I fell asleep with the cat on my lap, and I dreamed that God appeared. He was small in stature and dressed very nattily in a pin-striped suit with a yellow tie on a blue shirt. He turned around a chair, threw his leg over it, sat on it backwards, and addressed me. “Did you ask for something?” “Yes, Lord,” I answered, “won’t you take my cat? He has suffered enough.” “Oh, I can do that, but aren’t you forgetting something?” I said, “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory.” I woke up. My cat was dead.
I wonder who it was that established the sequencial order of Paul’s letters. They are set, not in order of their writing, nor of their themes. They are set in order of their size. Romans, being the longest, if placed first, though it would have been obvious even in ancient times that it was one of the last, if not the last, of Paul’s letters. It is addressed to the Christian of Rom in anticipation of his visit. He died in Rome.
Our reading is from a section in which Paul talks about the victory of mind over flesh made possible by Christ. Our struggle begins with hope and then moves to prayer. Our prayer being inadequate, God sends the Holy Spirit to help us with “sighs too deep for words.” I really like that notion that prayer can be too deep for words. Then Paul reminds his readers that this help will come only to “saints,” that is to members of the church whose devotion is manifest.
Arthur H. Cash is a historian and distinguished professor emeritus, State University of New York at New Paltz.