“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 2:2-4)
This is a strange passage. Bible scholars across the centuries have wrestled with what to do with this experience of “Pentecost”. Debates have raged as to exactly what this phenomenon was, strange languages, violent wind and the appearance of fire above the heads of the believers… What is going on here? And more to the point, what difference does it make now?
The Feast of Weeks consisted of a week of weeks after the Jewish Passover, or forty-nine days culminating in a celebration on the fiftieth day called Pentecost in the Greek language. In those days, Pentecost was important to Jews for two reasons: 1) it commemorated the giving of the Law to Moses on Mt. Sinai (there may be a clue here regarding the fire and wind); 2) it recognized God’s hand in agriculture with the harvest of the first barely crop, a kind of ancient Thanksgiving.
Pentecost’s arrival coincided with a time of year (usually the first part June), that in Israel is ideal for travel: no rain, warm but not hot temperatures, warm nights and little concern for stormy conditions at sea. Therefore, the crowds that gathered in Jerusalem for Pentecost were often as large, if not larger than those gathering for Passover and were often from father away with more of an international flavor.
Reading Luke’s writing style in both Acts and The Gospel of Luke, we discover a tendency to focus upon the international, multi-cultural flavor of the Gospel. Visible throughout Acts especially, are consistent portraits of remarkably diverse individuals: an Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8); a Samaritan Magician (Acts 8); an angry Pharisee (Acts 9); a Roman Centurian (Acts 10); dark-skinned church leaders from Africa (Acts 13); an influential business woman from Greece….All walks of life from all over the map are touched by the fire and wind of God.
In short, we cannot be sure exactly what happened in Jerusalem that day. But this we do know; something happened. Something that was mysterious and powerful, a wind and fire that transformed those gathered together from a rather confused and unorganized group of followers into a strikingly motivated collection of evangelists. These previously untrained lower class folks would go on to proclaim Good News to a multi-cultural world.
The wind and fire of God still blows and burns in places so personal and yet simultaneously distant and different it can make the head spin. May we recognize the windburns of God still visible in our daily lives in all we say and do and become. The miracles of God continue…