John 7:37-52; 8:12
From the time God gave the Law, the Torah, to Moses until just a few years after Christ was crucified, the people of Israel celebrated a harvest festival seven weeks after Pascha - Passover. In Hebrew, they called it Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks. We know this feast by its Greek name, Pentecost.
During the days of the First and Second Temples, the people would bring their first fruit of harvest - barley, the winter crop - from their homes, coming to Jerusalem with great joy and celebration. Once they reached the city, they would go to the Temple to present the barley to the priests, with a ceremony recounting the difficulties the Israelites encountered before settling in the land of Israel. It would conclude with giving thanks to God for bringing the people to “a land flowing with milk and honey”
It was more than that, though. For the Israelite, Shavuot was the commemoration of God giving the Law to the people through Moses. The Jewish celebration today reflects both aspects.
Throughout this Paschal Season, I’ve pointed out how much of what Christ did, starting with the institution of the Eucharist and the Priesthood on Holy Thursday, was a fulfillment of the Mosaic Law. In the Sermon on the Mount, He said, "Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them".
In the Book of Hebrews we read, “The Law was given as a shadow of the good things to come.” Speaking through the Prophet Jeremiah, God said, "Behold, the days are coming when I will make a new covenant … I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people”.
The Epistle tells us that it was on the day of Pentecost that those gathered in the Upper Room were filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other tongues, and that the Jews from other lands heard them in their own tongues. Now, some of the Church Fathers, St, Augustine and St. John Chrysostom among them, taught that the miracle was in the speaking of other languages. Others of the Fathers taught that the miracle was that each of the listeners heard in their own language. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that the curse of the Tower of Babel was reversed. The Gospel could be heard by everyone in their own language.
In his sermon, later in the chapter, Peter quotes the prophet Joel. “"Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant … I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. . . And it shall be that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved”.
Again, there’s that New Covenant.
But, why did God wait until this point in time to initiate it? Two things come to mind. The first is directly from our Gospel reading. The Holy Spirit hadn’t been given because Jesus hadn’t been glorified yet.
The second thing. Pentecost was the commemoration of the giving of the Law.
The Law was the guiding principle of the Old Covenant. The inspiration given us by the Holy Spirit is the guiding principle of the New Covenant.
Shavuot, the Levitical Festival of Weeks, is the celebration of the institution, of the birth, of the Old Covenant, the Covenant of the Law. Pentecost, the Christian fulfillment of Shavuot, is the celebration of the institution, of the birth, of the New Covenant, the Covenant of Grace, the Covenant of Love. It is a covenant where, if we let Him, God will write His laws on our hearts.
Each of us who has been chrismated has experienced our own Pentecost. We have been filled with the Holy Spirit, just as they were on that day so long ago. Besides the day of Pentecost, every single instance in Acts of people being filled with the Holy Spirit occurred with the Apostles laying hands on them to be filled. God’s pattern, as we see in Acts and developed in the Church, is for bishops or priests to administer the sacrament.
And Pentecost is most definitely the celebration of the First Fruits of Christ’s Kingdom. A little later in that chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, we read that about three thousand were added to their number that day.
Think about that for a moment. Three. Thousand. Souls converted in one day. Three Thousand baptisms in one day!
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few”. Who are the laborers? YOU are, if you want to be. The Church tells us, when we are baptized, we are baptized as priest, prophet, and king.
We are all priests - not of the sacraments, but of God’s love. We exercise this through prayer, through mercy, though blessing others with our actions
We are all prophets - we have the authority to speak God’s word. We exercise this when we speak the truth in love
The object of that ministry is not the Church - certainly not. Only those appointed by the Church can minister to it. The recipients of our ministry are all of humanity.
Does that mean you have to be on the street corner preaching? No. It means that you have to be there for your fellow man. Offer encouragement when possible. Offer truth. Offer love.
My brothers and sister, you have a commission. It is a commission for holiness and love. It is a commission for truth. It is a commission to be a laborer in the harvest.