The Day of Pentecost
S. Day of Pentecost.23 Acts 2:1-21, Jn. 7:37-39
We were talking in bible class a couple weeks ago about the festival of Pentecost and someone expressed surprise that it’s actually one of the 3 major Old Testament Jewish festivals, not exclusively a NT thing with the coming of the Holy Spirit. Somebody asked “Well, what was the OT festival about?” And I went “It was 50 days after the Passover.” And, very tactfully, Pastor Smith said “And you remember what event it was commemorating for the Jews, right?” And I was like, “Uh, let’s say I forgot. Remind me.” And he said “It was 50 days after the passover in Egypt that Israel came to Mt. Sinai and found the top of the mountain engulfed in fire, with smoke and loud celestial trumpets sounding as Moses went up to receive the Law.”
Honestly, I’d not pieced that together before and never heard anyone mention it. Having a brother in arms who’s immersed in the holy scriptures is a tremendous gift. Hey; you’re never too old to learn something new!
It really makes the Day of Pentecost a whole new deal, doesn’t it? All Israel is gathered together (well, representatives from the Jewish people and god-fearers from all over the world where they’d been dispersed as Luke tells us in v. 5). It is a day of remembrance. Of what was. Of what might have been…
When their fathers, 1400 years before, saw the fire on the mountain and Moses went up, after 38 or 39 or so days they said: “No one could survive that! He must be all burned up. Let’s make some new gods, a golden calf or something, and head back to Egypt where we belong.” And Aaron let them have it their way. The first contemporary worship service.
And just as the liturgical dance got going, there’s Moses and Joshua with the two tablets of stone, with the Torah, the Law of God, which Moses hurled to the ground in anger and broke. The day started pretty great. God had given them his law and promises, but they’d already forsaken him and turned away looking for new gods.
This is maybe why they didn’t have Pentecost bonfires like Guy Fawkes day. Because there was no victory there, really, no happy ending, just a bunch of guilty parties—a tough day, the law only exposing their sin, the fire lighting them up with sorrow and remorse about what they’d done, how far they’d strayed. They were right about one thing, though: no sinner can survive that fire. It will burn us all up. It’s the fire of hell, that only God can put out.
So then, with that memory burned in their brains, Pentecost 30 AD blazed a new trail. There was the sound of the rushing mighty wind, like the celestial trumpets sounding from Mt. Sinai. And there was fire, but different fire, like the fire on the mountain Moses saw that Day on Mt. Sinai, where the bush was burned but not consumed, from which the Voice of God sounded, commanding Moses to go rescue God’s people from slavery and bring them to the mountain to make a new deal with them—a fire that did not kill Moses but made him something new.
And so it was with the fire on that Pentecost Day, 30 AD. The fire came down with the heavenly noise, but it didn’t burn up the apostles on whom it rested—they survived. God’s voice sounded from the fire again, as for Moses, proclaiming the wonderful works of God, how the fire of hell, which none can survive, which killed Jesus on the cross, could not hold him down, but how he was raised up the 3rd day pure and holy with healing on his wings.
It was the golden fire of the sun on the first day of a new creation, the 8th day that has no sunset.
What a Day…
It was a day of remembering what was, what might have been. What if Adam and Eve had never eaten the apple? What if Cain hadn’t killed Able? What if the tower of Babel never got built? What if they’d never gone back to Egypt, just let God rain more manna from heaven? What if… they’d just taken Joseph’s bones back to Canaan the day he died, told Pharaoh they’d be right back, but just went and never looked back?
What if they’d waited for Moses to come out of the unsurvivable fire with the testament that promised a new way, a new life? What if they’d listened to Jesus and hadn’t abandoned and killed him? What if—even now!?—they could hear and believe the promise of life out of death? What if this Fire could just burn away the sin and the rot and leave us cleansed, fire-proof?
Last weekend, we went to Chicago to visit our son, to see the Martin house band, The National, who contemplate the losses of life—big and small—the mistakes, the disappointments; always wondering, just asking, if maybe the things you think you can’t survive, somehow, sometimes, you can and do? Maybe start new? A National concert is cathartic, happy, sad, weird, lonely, majestic.
In one song, the protagonist’s dug another hole with his beloved (which sounds to me rather like Israel and God’s stormy affair ;-): “It’s a calculation I made a mistake on/ I never should have said it like I said/ It will come to me later; like a space invader/ And I won’t be able to get it out of my head/
“What if I’d never written the letter/ I slipped in the sleeve of the record I gave you?/ What if I stayed on the C train until Lafayette?/ What if we’d never met?/ What if I’d only just done what you told me and never looked back?/ What if I’d only ducked away down the hallway and faded to black?”
Great questions. The National’s got a lot of ‘em.
As does Pentecost. It’s a Day of what might have been, what could have been, what if’s, with us and God. But it’s also realizing—as big a mess as we’ve made of things—what a bigger disaster if we’d never met! And though “I’ve never just done what you told me” (and I’m always looking back) when Israel looked back at their meet cute on Mt. Sinai (that ended in disaster) it wasn’t actually a total loss. Happy sadness.
‘Cause God never gives up on his faithless bride. He walks the long, hard road of suffering, sorrow—lets us kill him, nail him to the cross, because we couldn’t “just do what he told us”, (still can’t). So God does what we can’t. He takes the sin, the dark, the lies, the hate, dies of it! in our place and rises, like the Golden Sun Ascending, breaking through the clouds of night.
He forgives. Everything. Everyone. Even you.
The fire that came on Pentecost lit up the face of Jesus as our God, Savior, Friend. He’s a space invader and we don’t want to ever get him out of our head.
There’s some burning that has to take place. Sinners can’t survive the burning glory that is the Triune God. But Jesus shows the fire of Sinai can burn up the idolatry, the hate, the lies, the betrayals, the loss, and cleanse us as he is clean and pure.
The Fire creates a powerful thirst! So, Jesus says: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” ‘Cause, baptismal water puts out the fire. Jesus’ body is real food; his blood’s real drink, quenching that thirst that has burned in our throats since Eden.
By the Spirit’s power, we can finally do as he says: be baptized into him, eat and drink with him, get him stuck in our head and never look back. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.