Welcome Holy Spirit: Exploring the Meaning and Significance of the Coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Day
Grace to you and Happy Pentecost Sunday!
With God there is no accident. Coincidence, luck or chance has no place in divine plan. Every plan of God is providence. In other words, Providence is another way of speaking of divine plan.
Providence is to say that the finger of God directs things from the start to their final fulfillment. As the Catholic Catechism says, God has set things in statu via, “in a state of journeying” towards the fulfillment of an ultimate plan (See Catechism of the Catholic Church, 302).
It is providence that we have day and night. It’s providence we have seasons—summer, winter, spring or autumn; and for those in sub-Saharan Africa—rainy season, dry season and harmattan season. It’s providence we have people of different color and language. The sequence of birth, growth and death is providence. Things happen by providence.
Among the histories of the peoples of the world, we see this narrative of providence in different ways. The history of the people of Israel is a perfect case study.
It’s providence that God created the first man and woman. It’s providence that God called Abram (Abraham) from the land of Ur to be a pacesetter for human response to the true God. Abraham’s story was providence at work.
It is providence the sons of Israel went to Egypt. God was already preparing a way through Joseph, second of the last of the 12 sons of Israel, to make the way for his brothers. It was also providence that they moved to Egypt. Then came the persecution by Pharaoh and God redeeming them by his right hand and arm outstretched.
The entire event of the Passover was providence. “When I see the blood, I will pass over you” (Exodus 12:13) was designed in preparation for reconfiguring God’s people to the original holiness lost by the sins of our first parents. Freedom from Egypt was prefiguring freedom from the clutches of sin (no thanks to Original Sin) which the Lamb, Our Lord Jesus Christ, objectively accomplished on Good Friday.
In other words, all the three major feasts that God asked the people of Israel to celebrate were part of a providential plan. They were all in statu via—a process towards fulfillment.
Permit me to refresh our minds on the three major feasts and to show some parallels with our Christian Faith. First is the Passover—the feast of Unleavened Bread (Thanksgiving). It’s a weeklong feast of thanksgiving to God for delivering Israel from the hand of Pharaoh, the King of Egypt. Our Church sees this feast as finding its ultimate fulfillment at the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the true and worthy Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.
During the actual Jewish Passover, people drink of the chalice and eat of the bread. The cup of salvation, especially the fourth cup, is the consummation of the blood of the Lamb, poured for the salvation of the world. Christ fulfilled that process on Good Friday. Providentially, Jesus’ crucifixion happened on or around the Passover. In every church that celebrates the Eucharist, as the body and blood of Jesus, it is the Passover reenacted, Passover, once consummated, now memorialized (See Mt 26:17-30). This is providence.
The second Jewish feast is the Feast of the Shavuot (Pentecost). It’s also called the Feast of Weeks (Exodus 34: 22) or the Feast of Harvest or Firstfruits (Numb 28:26). It was a feast celebrated on the day they harvest the first fruit of the land and equally symbolizes the birth of their nationhood as a fruitful nation in the land flowing with milk and honey, whose constitution was the Law of God. The locus of the congregation was Mount Sinai, where God gave Moses the Torah; and His wind, breath, or Spirit thundered. It was celebrated fifty days after the Passover.
Our Christian Passover was the Good Friday and the Resurrection was Easter. Approximately fifty days after, the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples, on the very day of harvest celebration, the day the Jews celebrate as the birthday of their nationhood and the receiving of the Torah (meaning five books). It is also the day regarded as the Harvest of Fruitfulness.
On the first Pentecost, about three thousand people were slain because of the idolatry of the people for worshipping the golden calf (See Exodus 32:28). On the first Christian Pentecost, about three thousand became believers after listening to the first spirit-filled sermon of Saint Peter (Acts 2:41). A new day of grace for God’s people is dawned. This is providence.
Therefore, Pentecost is a day of Thanksgiving for God’s grace of fruitfulness to his people. For us, it’s providence that on that day, the Church was born as a people filled with the Spirit of the Father and the Son, to be fruitful in begetting sons and daughters for the Lord.
On this day, like in the promise of the Old Testament, we receive God’s love, no longer on the tablet of stone, but in our hearts; God’s love poured into our hearts through His Spirit. It’s technically- the day of the first fruit of the Lamb. This is providence. I will get back to this Pentecost. In the meantime, let’s sketch the last Jewish Feast.
The 3rd and last major Jewish feast is the Feast of Tabernacles. It was the feast in remembrance of the end of the long journey, some say, the wandering of Israel in the wilderness. It was a weeklong celebration; call it also the eschaton (that is, in view of the final restoration, covenant with the Lord as suggested by Zechariah 14 and Ezekiel 43:27). A Christian parallel of this feast sees it as yet to be fulfilled, when the Church Pilgrim/Church Militant will end our journey on earth and witness the beatific vision. This is divine providence as well.
Back to the Pentecost: If we see the historical, providential connections between the Jewish Feast of Pentecost and the Christian Feast of the Coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, it inspires us to see the bigger picture of Divine Plan.
On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples like tongues of fire, giving them utterances—they prophesied, spoke boldly of what they had seen, heard, touched, tasted and felt in Christ. The coming of the Holy Spirit was God’s plan, God’s promise fulfilled. They welcome him, the Person through whom the Church’s fruitfulness is born. As the Church, they spoke in varied tongues, but one language, the language of love because the Holy Spirit is love.
As we open our hearts to the gripping and transforming presence of the third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, let us reconnect with this Divine Plan. What the Church wants us to essentially do today is be part of this plan, a conscious choice to celebrate, especially at the Eucharist. The celebration connected with the Passover guarantees a visit by the Spirit of the Lamb of the Pasch—Holy Spirit. No one who consciously, actively connects with God’s plan goes home unfulfilled.
Pray with me: I welcome you Holy Spirit.
[Pentecost Sunday: Acts 2:1-11; Cor 12:3b-7, 12-13 or Rom 8:8-17; Jn 20:19-23 or Jn 14:15-16, 23b-26 ]
Father Maurice provides a daily blog of reflections based on the bible readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration and developing your own thoughts. It may also be helpful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.