An African Pentecost

An African Pentecost

In the calendar of Christendom, Pentecost is celebrated each year fifty days after Easter.  The gospel writer, Luke, tells the story in his second book, The Acts of the Apostles.

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.  And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.  Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the spirit gave them ability.  Acts 2:1-4 NRSV


From Christine Sine at God Space, a blog of spirituality:

Pentecost is coming.  Pentecost, fifty days after Easter Sunday celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the church.  As the Holy Spirit fell on the disciples, the barriers of language and culture were broken down – not so that everyone thought and looked the same, but so that everyone understood each other in their own language and culture.  This festival draws us beyond the resurrection to remind us that through the coming of the Holy Spirit we become part of a transnational community from every nation, culture and social class.

 “My peace I leave with you.”  The story of Pentecost is a story of a wonderful international cross cultural gathering. God’s Holy Spirit draws us all into a new family in which we are able to understand and break down all the cultural barriers that separate us and create conflict. In spite of our cultural differences we are, through the power of the Spirit, enabled to understand each other and treat each other as equals, with love and mutual care.


From Dignity USA which believes that “gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Catholics in our diversity are members of Christ’s mystical body, numbered among the People of God.”

Noise, wind, fire; things which bring consternation and confusion, not peace and security. Have you ever seen a painting or stained glass window which actually depicts the event as Luke describes it; people’s clothes blowing in the wind, hands covering their ears? We usually see a group of people piously sitting or standing with neatly formed streaks of fire hovering over their bowed heads.

Luke deliberately chooses these disturbing images because his community has already experienced the Spirit at work in its midst, especially on such occasions as the controversial opening of their faith to non-Jews – an event prefigured by the non-Jewish languages the Spirit-filled disciples are now able to speak.

Those who believe their church already possesses all truth will be greatly disturbed to discover that, according to Jesus’ plan, there’s always more truth to be discovered.


The Christian celebration of Pentecost grew out of the Hebrew Festival of Shavuot, which  jointly celebrated the spring harvest of barley and wheat and God’s gift of Torah on Mt Sinai.  Rabbi Arthur Waskow offers these comments on God’s Politics blog:

The ancient rabbis assigned a special reading for Shavuot: the book of Ruth, which focuses on harvesting, on tongues of native and “foreign” speech, of wealth and poverty. What does Ruth mean to us today?

For Christians, that day became Pentecost, now counted 50 days after Easter (this year on Sunday, May 31), when the Holy Spirit came like the rush of a strong and driving wind, helping the early community of believers speak and understand all the languages of every nation under heaven.

When do we ourselves experience the Holy Spirit, that rushing wind that intertwines all life? The Holy Breath that the trees breathe out for us to breathe in, that we breathe out for the trees to breathe in? The Holy Breath that now is in a planetary crisis?

Both of these festivals look beyond the narrow boundaries of nation, race, or class.

In the biblical story, Ruth was a foreigner from the nation of Moab, which was despised by all patriotic and God-fearing Israelites. Yet when she came to Israel as a widow, companion to her widowed mother-in-law, Naomi, she was welcomed onto the fields of Boaz, where she gleaned what the regular harvesters had left behind. Boaz made sure that even this despised foreigner had a decent job at decent pay. When she went one night to the barn where the barley crop was being threshed, he spent the night with her — and decided to marry her.

But if Ruth came to America today, what would happen?

UPDATE:  A fourth perspective

In a recent editorial of The Jewish Daily Forward (Online), we are reminded of the obligations of sharing the harvest, by “Leaving the Gleanings“.

Shavuot, the biblical Festival of Weeks, arrives on May 29 this year, with a special urgency. Holidays on the Jewish calendar often speak to us with particular force at pivotal moments in our communal lives – Passover, for example, with its theme of freedom, or Yom Kippur with its call for repentance. This year, we need to be reminded of Shavuot, the spring harvest festival with its often-overlooked — or suppressed — teachings about the rights of the poor and the dangerous seduction of wealth.

The text spells it out as plain as day: “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field, or gather the gleanings” — the bits that fall to the ground — “of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger. I am the Lord.”

The message of Shavuot is that the harvest you’re celebrating isn’t yours alone. Part of your crop belongs by right to people you don’t even know, simply because they don’t have as much. And if we restate this as a broad principle, as most of us agree the Bible is supposed to be read, the rule is this: A portion of one’s income shall be redistributed to the poor.

Nor is this to be taken as a recommendation of charity or generosity. It’s intended as a legal obligation, “a law for all time, in all your dwellings” — not just on the farm, and not just in the Middle East — “throughout your generations.” It’s almost as if the ancients knew we were going to try to wiggle out of it.

Conservatives in Washington these days like to dismiss taxes and regulation as “socialism.” But if you read your Bible, that’s just a fancy name for traditional values.

The National Voice of Jewish Democrats also comments on this editorial.