One of the really less than enjoyable aspects of being a teacher is to have to give grades. No, it’s not that it’s hard to pass judgment on someone’s ability to perform math or to write an essay (although that’s not the easiest thing to do), it’s the labor of it. You have to add up all the students’ grades and then average them in order to figure out what grade they deserve. That’s why I had a grade book program for my computer. I simply input the grades and the computer told me what grade the student should get. I am glad we don’t have to do that anymore!
I don’t know what I would have done without my EZ Grader 2.0. It was just a wonderful thing. I even got one for my wife, Becky. One day she mentioned to me that EZ Grader 2.0 would also print out a progress report (in English or in Spanish) that can be sent home to parents. Wow! I didn’t even know that, not having read the manual, of course. I had used that program for more than ten years and never stumbled on that little feature before. It was sort of like having a totally new program. I liken it to finding money in a pair of pants that have been hanging in the closet or something. I mean, it’s not really new. You had it all along. You just didn’t know it.
This Sunday is Pentecost Sunday. You don’t have to know anything about the church or religion to know that anytime a Sunday is given a special name it must be pretty significant and it is. Pentecost Sunday is the official birthday of the Christian church, although nobody was calling the church Christian, nor were they calling it a church. Nevertheless, we ascribe Pentecost as the day it officially began.
The word Pentecost is simply the Greek for “the fiftieth day.” Moreover, Pentecost was a feast long before the Christians. It is one of the three Mosaic feasts (meaning coming from Moses, not celebrating little tiles). On the fourteenth day of the first Jewish month, Abib, begins Passover. On the next day begins the Feast of Unleavened Bread (meaning bread without yeast-translate as matzos). This lasts for seven days, at the end of which, a sacrifice of “first fruits”, the first and best yield of the harvest is offered to God. Fifty days from this comes the “new meat offering”, otherwise known as Pentecost, consisting of two loaves made from new wheat, and a whole lot of farm animals, seven lambs, a young bull, one goat, and two more lambs.
So it was the Pentecost, fifty days from the feast of first fruits, and Jesus’ pals were all together in one place. Most scholars figure it was the upper room where they had that Last Supper together and where Jesus had come to see them after his resurrection, but it may well not have been. The Book of Acts just says they were all together in one place, when they heard this really loud noise that sounded something like a large wind. Then they saw this light anomaly, which to them looked like little “tongues of fire”. Who knows exactly what caused that, but they reported that the little “tongues” came to rest on each one of them. And then the account says they were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues.
Now this being a rather holy time of the year, there were a lot of Jewish pilgrims in Jerusalem from all over the world, and upon hearing this sound, they went to where the disciples were and were kind of freaked out because they could understand what the disciples were saying. In other words, the tongues in which the disciples were speaking were not some bizarre mumbo-jumbo heavenly language, they were supposed to be just plain old human languages. And all these pilgrims were able to understand what the disciples, and Peter in particular, were saying.
Peter tells them all about Jesus, his death, and his resurrection. Then he tells them all about the ancient prophecies regarding the messiah and how Jesus fulfilled these prophecies. He calls upon them all to be baptized, and the people respond. According to the account, some three thousand people were baptized that day. And so was born the Christian church. According to the story, all these people sold their possessions and distributed the money to those in need, lived communally and devoted themselves to learning the teachings of the apostles.
Every important event in the life of Jesus can be related to one of the traditional Jewish feasts. The Last Supper occurred during the Passover Seder, the meal which commemorates the Exodus out of Egypt. He rose from the dead on the Beginning of the Feast of First Fruits. He visits his pals a few times during that week, and then leaves. Then, fifty days from Easter Sunday, comes the Pentecost, the Feast of New Meat.
Those who are fundamentalists, who claim that everything in the Bible is fact, will point to this to show that Jesus is divine and the ultimate fulfillment of the law given to Moses on Sinai. One could also, just as easily, use the same references to show that the story of Jesus has been amended in order to more clearly point out the symbolic nature of the Christ, in order to show how the teachings of Jesus fulfill the Mosaic Laws. And of course, an atheist can use these references to show that the whole thing is just a well crafter myth. But then, there seems little doubt that Jesus existed, although the Bible is the only source we have for any of the particulars regarding his life here on earth. Regardless, Jesus is the first fruits. He was the sacrifice. And we, the church, are the end of the harvest. We are now called upon to carry out the teachings of Jesus.
It would be a mistake to think that Pentecost marks the gift of the Holy Spirit upon the church. Clearly, if the stories about the earlier prophets, Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, Daniel, are true, then the Holy Spirit has been around a long time. Pentecost is certainly not the first time the Holy Spirit moved upon the face of the earth. It is merely the first time that the apostles acted in faith and quit being scared, hiding out in the upper room, and proclaimed what Jesus taught to the people. Pentecost is about when they finally got off their asses and started to practice what Jesus taught.
And what Jesus taught is that we are all bound together, all of us. We are bound together by that Holy Divine Spirit. As the Apostle Paul puts it in the letter to the Corinthians, “As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.” I would hate to have to diagram that sentence. Paul is soooo wordy. Suffice it to say that we are all one, one body, one spirit, one people. What you do to me, you do to yourself. We are one. As John Lennon put it, “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together (goo goo ka joob)!” And when each one of us comes to that realization, we experience our own Pentecost.
Jesus told us that we are all a holy people. So often we look to people like Jesus, Ghandi, Gautama, Saint Francis, and Mother Theresa, and we admire them. Often we wish we could be like them. I so want to be like Jesus. And Jesus is here to say to me, “You can.” All those people were no holier than I am. They were not endowed by God with any special powers or perception. They were just people who lived their faith. They did more than listen to the teachings. They practiced the teachings.
Jesus, the church, did not just call upon us to believe any certain something about God, or the nature of the divine. He called upon us to go out and put that Holy Spirit that dwells in each one of us to work, serving one another. He called upon us to feed the hungry, to comfort the sorrowful, to visit the lost and lonely, to save one another. Yes, Jesus saves. So do you. So do we all. Being a Christian doesn’t mean that you go to church and sing your hymns and take communion and get all holy. It means that you go out and do the work of Jesus, because we are Jesus. The Holy Spirit makes us all part of the body of Christ and calls upon us all to do the work of Christ, to be the Christ to one another. We are called upon to love one another and serve one another. That’s why Jesus made the point of washing his students’ feet while he was here. Some may look upon Jesus as master, but even Jesus reminded his students that no student is greater than the master. If the master serves, than shall not the student also serve?
This day, Pentecost, is the day we should all stop being afraid, and go out into the world to serve each other in a spirit of love. That is why Pentecost is the birthday of the church, because isn’t that what a church is supposed to be? It isn’t a building with a lot of pews and an altar. The church is a people, bound together by the Holy Spirit, the spirit of the divine, the all pervasive creative spirit of the universe if you prefer (we shouldn’t get hung up on titles or words), the Tao, the Prajna. We are the church, each one of us. And whether the story in The Book of Acts happened the way it is written or not, it doesn’t change the truth of the meaning behind the events. We are all one. We are one body. We are all part of one spirit of love. Jesus didn’t give us anything we didn’t already have. He just showed us that we had it, just like that EZ Grade program. We had that Holy Spirit in us all along. And that makes me holy and you holy and all of us holy. As I have so often said before, you are so important. You are so powerful, more than you can possibly imagine. You are the hands of God. That’s what Pentecost Sunday means to me.