“When the days of the Pentecost were accomplished, they were all together in one place:”
You may have noticed that our reading from the Acts of the Apostles speaks of the “days of Pentecost” as having been “accomplished” or “drawing to a close.” The writer, Saint Luke, was referring to the Jewish observance, fifty days following the Passover, of a feast in thanksgiving for the barley harvest. Barley was an important part of the Jewish economy; used both as a livestock feed, and to bake a coarse bread when wheat was unavailable or unaffordable. Only wheaten breads could be offered in sacrifice, but a sheaf of new barley was waved before the altar at the beginning of the harvest, and leavened cakes were brought to the temple on Pentecost and given for the use of the priests.
The Jewish Pentecost (a Greek word, actually) also celebrated the tradition that God had given Moses the tablets of the Law at Mount Sinai on the fiftieth day following the first Passover, which marked the beginning of the Exodus from bondage in Egypt.
For Christians, Pentecost is the culmination of something far more important than the conclusion of the harvest; more important, even. than the reception of the Mosaic Law. For Christians, Pentecost is the culmination of a work begun by the Holy Ghost toward the beginning of the year in which Christ was born—on March 25th if we go by the liturgical reckoning. On that day, God expressed His love for mankind in a way that He had never done before, nor done again since then. The Lord willing, we will speak about the Trinity next week, on Trinity Sunday, but for the moment suffice it to say that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the eternal love of the Father and the Son. In much the same way that we can speak of the Son as the “Word,” or the “Truth” of God, we can speak of the Holy Ghost as the “Love” of God.
On that day in March, the Angel of the Lord appeared unto Mary, who gave her consent to become the earthly Mother of God. “Be it done to me according to thy word,” she said, and the Holy Ghost “overshadowed” her, and the “Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us.” Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity became man through the all-powerful force of the Third Person, the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Throughout the liturgical year we have followed the growth, and the life, and the teaching of Mary’s most Holy Son. Toward the end of Lent, we carefully called to mind the celebration of the Last Supper at the beginning of the Passover, followed by our Lord’s crucifixion and death on Good Friday, and His resurrection from the dead on Easter Sunday. For forty days, the liturgy bore witness to the interaction of our resurrected Lord with the Apostles, and a number of His other disciples. Saint Paul tells us that on one occasion, as many as five hundred people were privileged to acknowledge that He had truly risen.
On the fortieth day, our Lord was taken up to heaven—His Ascension, which we commemorated last Thursday. But He had promised that He would not leave His followers alone to their own devices. As we heard a few Sundays ago, He promised that when He returned to the Father, He would send another “Advocate,” the “Spirit of Truth” the Holy Ghost, who “would teach us all the truth.” On that day of the Ascension, “He charged the Apostles not to depart from Jerusalem, for they would be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.”
Saint Luke records that “they returned to Jerusalem ... about a sabbath day’s journey ... and they went up into the Upper Room.” He lists the remaining eleven Apostles, and tells us that they “persevered with one mind in prayer with the women, and Mary the Mother of Jesus, and with His brethren.” Luke also mentions that in the Upper Room, in the presence of the hundred and twenty or so people that made up the Church in its earliest days, a new Apostle, Matthias, was chosen to replace Judas.
It would appear then, that these were the people upon whom the Holy Ghost descended, with the appearance of fire and the sound of a great wind on that Pentecost Sunday, at about nine in the morning. The work begun by the Holy Ghost many years before, was finally accomplished. The Mosaic Law of the Old Testament gave place to the New Law of Christ’s Church, under the direction of Saint Peter, who that very day made some three thousand new converts through the power of the Holy Ghost.
In some sense, we can say that the work of the Holy Ghost culminated on Pentecost with the beginning of the activities of the infant Church. But in another sense, we must acknowledge that the work of the Holy Ghost is ongoing, or even eternal. He is that “Advocate” whom our Lord promised to send in His own absence. He still speaks to us through Peter and the Church—and He “overshadows” each one of us, in a way somewhat like the way in which He “overshadowed” the Virgin Mary. Not physically, of course, but when we receive the Sacraments, and as long as we remain in the state of grace, we become temples of God—we are “overshadowed” by the Love of God, who chooses to abide with us.
Through the indwelling of the Holy Ghost we are filled with faith, hope, and charity; we are given the gifts by which know and love and serve Him; we receive the fruits which make us holy and peaceful children of God.
In the words of the Gospel today, our Lord speaks to each and every one of us, particularly when we find that times are too difficult, and the burdens of life seem most oppressive: “Not as the world gives do I give to you ... My peace I give you. Do not let your heart be troubled or afraid.” Today is the day of the Holy Ghost; the Love of the Father and the Son; the Love of God for all of us!