24th MAY 2020
The disciples were all together in one place…
Luke, the author of the Acts of the Apostles, seemingly goes out of his way to tell us that “the disciples were all together in one place” that first Pentecost, not scattered about at their own homes surrounded by spouse and children, as we might have expected; not engaged in making a living or earning their keep in a shop somewhere. They were rather huddled together, all of one mind, presumably in prayer, perhaps in singing and conversation; not quite knowing what if anything to make of all that had happened over the previous weeks, not knowing what to expect next; a time surely of anticipation as well as foreboding.
Nobody of course knows just where those disciples were gathered “in one place” on that first Pentecost, though theories abound. Some maintain that the location must have been the same room where the disciples had locked themselves away after our Lord’s crucifixion and death, “for fear of the Jews,” as the Gospel of John infelicitously explains it. This would make sense. For followers of a crucified Messiah who had now returned to heaven the prospects could not have been promising.
Other scholars believe the disciples must logically have been gathered together that Pentecost Day in the same upper chamber where our Lord had celebrated his Last Supper with them just short weeks before; thus bringing together in a spiritual sense the sharing of the Body and Blood of our Lord -- his physical presence -- and the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost. I suppose we shall never know. And it probably does not make a great deal of difference -- except perhaps to scholars who make their living studying such things.
As in many cultures of the world even today, physical closeness was in any event likely the norm at the time of that first Pentecost, so I suppose it is not surprising to find the disciples gathered “in one place.” Most families at the time lived cheek-by-jowl in one crowded room, sometimes along with the family’s prized goat or cow. Togetherness provided comfort, security, warmth, and protection in a dangerous world. It provided a kind of inner universe of shared familial and religious values. Social-distancing, as we have come to know it in these past months, would have been alien in the ancient world, if not downright impossible, even at times of pandemic or plague.
We at Saint Margaret’s of course rejoice today, after long months apart, in being able once again “to come together in one place” to share the mystery of the Lord’s presence among us in Eucharist and prayer; to share community, warmth, and the reassurance of having survived difficult times. And, while we may have become inured to social-distancing as a new societal norm, we are not likely to embrace it -- if that is even the right word -- as a spiritual norm. For, we are called to be “in one place” in heart and mind as were the disciples on that first Pentecost. It is when we are together as one that the Spirit seems most visible among us. And most powerful.
Still, the message of that first Pentecost is not so much one of shared closeness and security as it is of ongoing challenge and risk. For, the Spirit in a sense demands that we go beyond boundaries of comfort zones and the known and expected. The Spirit shakes things up. It changes everything, for the disciples and for the world. The Spirit comes upon the disciples -- and us -- not as a gentle breeze or puff of ephemeral cloud. It comes as a violent wind, a storm, and as “tongues as if fire.”
We lose in English of course Luke’s play on words, for in many of the languages of the ancient Middle East, expressions meaning wind, tongue, and language are similar if not exactly the same. The wind of Pentecost becomes in the proclamation of the disciples the fire of the Spirit spreading the word of the Gospel across the nations. No wonder the people in Peter’s hearing are dumbfounded.
Spreading the Word of the Gospel remains our challenge as well. Months of isolation may -- or may not -- be coming to an end. Yet fears remains, understandably so. And in many cases need and hardship are more acute than ever. We may not all have the gift of tongues and boldness bestowed upon the disciples. But each of us has the gift of the Spirit to bring Christ’s message of hope and redemption to a world so sorely in need of knowing and embracing it.
The Spirit is poured out “upon all flesh,” as Peter proclaims. His message must now become ours. Our voice, as our language, is different. But that is also the point. The Spirit speaks through each of us, if we let it. Our voice may be weak or strong; English or Hungarian; male or female. But if we speak in the spirit of love, the Spirit of God, we shall be heard. Our isolation will be ended. From this room, this our upper chamber, we too proclaim to all who will hear the love and mercy of God. And, it is the love and mercy of God which makes us all one in the Spirit.
The Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedűs