We have used the word ‘Pentecost’ many a times and in various different ways in our prayers. Yet have you ever wondered what does this word actually mean? The word in itself has no religious etymology (meaning). It comes from the Greek word for “fiftieth” (pentecoste). The reason is that Pentecost is the fiftieth day (Greek, pentecoste hemera) after Easter Sunday (on the Christian calendar). However, the event that took place on that fiftieth day after the resurrection of Jesus has had a deep and lasting effect in not only the history of the church but also the history of the world.
Many authors refer to the Feast of the Pentecost as the ‘birthday of the Church’. I guess in some ways it is true while it is still open for discussion. Try and recall your own birthday…what sentiments does it evoke? For many people it is a celebration (even though as they grow older they prefer not to disclose their age). It is a celebration of life. For many mothers, it is an unforgettable day. I have been to many birthdays of children and somehow mothers never fail to recall some aspects of the day of the birth…they remember because it is a life changing moment. Life was not the same since that day.
Two thousand years ago (this day) was a life changing moment for the apostles. Things were not the same again. That fiftieth day represents the fulfilment of Christ’s promise: “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high” [Lk. 24:46-49]. This “clothing with power” comes with the bestowal of the Holy Spirit upon the Church.
On the feast of the Pentecost, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is remembered… When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance (Acts 2: 1ff).
There are two specific symbols of the Holy Spirit and his activity in this passage: the elements of wind and fire: the Greek word that is used for wind is pnuema, which means ‘breath”. In other words, God breathes on them a fire – an uncontrollable fire. Fire generally needs three elements – heat, fuel and oxygen. The fire that engulfed the Apostles is made up of three elements too – faith, hope, love… and greatest is LOVE (1Cor 13:13).
These are the “elements” that the apostles went to bear witness – it was not a preaching, but a testimony of their own story with Jesus Christ. This story has withstood the test of time… challenges, scandals, wars, divisions, but yet is a message of faith in God, hope in the future, and love in our hearts.
Today we celebrate the gift of the Church. We often wonder whether the Church will remain another two thousand years… no young people, people don’t believe in the Church, so on and so forth. The Church has survived because those before us have re-told their stories with Jesus in different ways and forms. If we are to celebrate Pentecost meaningfully, it is a calling and a reminder for us to continue telling the story of Jesus – a story that can only be credible when we bear witness by our lives because that is the most powerful testimony, more than theology. Let the Spirit of God inspire us today to tell the story of Jesus – it is a love story that leads to faith in God and hope in humanity.