by Father Mike Stubbs
Do you remember Easter Sunday?
It was exactly 50 days ago from this Sunday, Pentecost Sunday.
The word “Pentecost” comes from the Greek word which means “50.” Just as Easter always falls on a Sun- day, so also we always celebrate Pentecost on a Sunday. Sunday’s first reading, Acts 2: 1-11, describes the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples, which took place on the day of Pentecost. It was a Sunday.
That partly explains why Christians single out all the Sundays of the year as important. Jesus Christ rose from the dead on a Sunday. But also, the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples on a Sunday. And God began the work of creation on a Sunday, according to the account in Gn 1:3-5.
At the time of Jesus, the Jewish people observed a feast 50 days after Passover. Originally, it was a harvest festival to celebrate the new wheat crop. Two loaves of bread made from the new flour were offered in sacrifice. Since the feast took place seven weeks after Passover, it was called the feast of Weeks (Nm 28:26). Later on, it acquired the name “Pentecost,” because it took place 50 days after Passover.
Because of their timing, the Christian feasts of Easter and Pentecost parallel the Jewish feasts of Passover and Weeks. Beyond that, there is another way in which the two sets of feasts are linked. At the time of Jesus, many looked upon the feast of Weeks as also a commemoration of the Jews’ arrival at Mount Sinai during their exodus from Egypt. God established the covenant with them there and gave them the Law, which formed them into a cohesive people.
In that sense, the feast of Weeks celebrated the birth of the people of Israel.
Similarly, the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples formed them into a church. That is why our feast of Pentecost celebrates the birth of the church. The Holy Spirit, represented by tongues of flame, ignited a fire in the disciples’ hearts. It energized them to go out and spread their faith.
Centuries earlier, fire had marked God’s presence on Mount Sinai, when God established the covenant with Moses and the people of Israel: “Mount Sinai was all wrapped in smoke, for the Lord came down upon it in fire” (Ex 19:18). Once again, God descended in fire on Pentecost, to establish a covenant and create a new people.