BY DAVID MARION Pentecost Sunday: Acts 2: 1-11
1 Corinthians 12: 3-7, John 20-19-23
THE FEAST OF PENTECOST predates Christianity. For centuries before the Jews celebrated, in their way, the 50th day after Passover.
For us, Pentecost might well be called Mission Sunday. On the day of Pentecost, the Church received its marching orders. In the last few lines of the Gospel of St Matthew, Our Lord, before the Ascension, told his confused followers up in Galilee that they were to "make all nations my disciples and to baptise everywhere in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit".
St John, in today's Gospel, describes Our Lord meeting the apostles, still hidden in their room, and telling them that they are to receive the Holy Spirit. John says that he "breathed on them". Breath was life. After God formed human beings from dust in the book of Genesis, we are told that he breathed on the dust to give life. Ezekiel spoke of the breath which would give life to the dead bones of Israel.
Now breath has come for the new Church as the Spirit gives it life. Our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles puts the Tower of Babel story into reverse. Now everyone can understand each other. People from many nations are united, not divided. The wind has caught the sails and the ship of the Church begins to move out on its long journey.
Two themes run through these readings. The first is that the Church has a mission. It is to bring to the whole world knowledge of the marvels of God. The Church is not a building to be admired, a history to be memorised or a retirement home where security can be offered to elderly inmates. It is the source of new life. Secondly, and this is very clear in St Paul's letter to the Corinthians, as members of the Church we all have special gifts and ministries. Today there is a tendency to clericalise the idea of ministry. We have ministries of reading, or choir service, of flower arrangements and of Church accounting. Important ministries they indeed are. But every parent, carer, teacher, policeman or woman, member of Amnesty or of Friends of the Earth, teenager and pensioner has a special ministry, as we all have, every day of our lives.
Unity is St Paul's key theme. The work of the Spirit is to unite not to divide the Body of Christ. It does not matter if we are "Jews or Greeks" or if we have other differences as long as, deep down, we remain loving members of this strange new family. t