Judaism, like many other religions and faiths, uses the festivals and other times of remembrance to teach and remind the followers of the events and moments that not only define their faith but also reveal the character and nature of God.
One series of defining holidays is the Shalosh Regalim (Shall-lah-sh Raw-gal-eim) which involves three significant festival observances. All three of the these, prior to the destruction of the second temple, required that Jewish believers in Judea to take a pilgrimage to the temple in Jerusalem. All three have a foundational element of harvest gratitude and recognition – all three also have very significant remembrance and recognition elements from the Israelites past. All three concentrate on the start for the Isrealites, when they became a ‘promised people’ and when they officially became followers of the one true God
Pesach (pee-sock) – Passover -is the most significant of the three holidays. It is the observance of the release from Egyptian captivity and slavery following the sacrifice of the lamb to protect the first born males from death during the final plague. It is a celebration of God’s deliverance from slavery, it is a recognition of the physical freedom of the Israelites. The Israelites officially became a ‘people’ during the time of slavery so this was the first taste of freedom of this ‘people’ of Abraham and Jacob.
Shavuot (Shavoo-ot) takes fifty days after the celebration of Passover giving it the informal name of ‘Pentecost’ meaning fifty. It is the fifty day period between the exodus from slavery of the Israelites and the day that Moses received the Torah (the Law-Books of Moses, first five) from God on Mount Sinai. While the Passover recognizes the physical freedom granted to the Israelites, the Shavuot (Shavoo-ot) remembers the moment of Spiritual Redemption. God gave the law, God made them His people.
In the study of their religion, Jews commonly rely on the Midrash to understand and comprehend the Torah; the resource that we, in Christianity, have that is most similar is our commentaries that come from learned experts who study and write to enhance our understanding of the Bible. On Midrash thread of teaching is that God actually offered the Law to all seventy nations of people that were on the earth at this time but only the Israelites accepted it. Among the main reasons for rejecting the gift from God was that it restricted murder, adultery, and theft.
Sukkot (sue – coat), often called the festival of the booths or tents, is a recognition of the time the Israelites lived in tents while wandering in the desert following after the giving of the law and the refusal to enter the promised land up to the moment when the second generation trusted God and entered the land. The significance of this time wandering was the time during which the Israelites learned, and decided to, depend solely on God. Sukkot (sue-coat) is celebrated at the end of the harvest in an observance of God’s provision of the crops.
Today, we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Shavuot (Shavoo-ot)), Pentecost, forty days after Passover, the last moments of Jesus with his followers until after the cross and resurrection, and ten days after the ascension of Jesus to return to heaven. Since the 40 days and the 10 days add up to ten, and because the day was already called ‘Pentecost’ or ‘Fiftieth’ we simply call the day Pentecost Sunday. It was a day when thousands of the faith of Judaism had made the annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the holiday of Shavuot (Shavoo-ot)). They were in the streets, at the temple, they were everywhere. And, ironic as it may sound, they were there to remember their redemption with God.
What a day for the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, to come.
Everyone was in the streets except the 120 followers of the crucified Jesus Christ. These followers were hidden in a room, somewhat fearful, somewhat joyful, very cautious and hesitant, and totally unaware of what was about to happen. They were Jesus followers who, at this very moment on this official day of Shavuot (Shavoo-ot)), were doing exactly what Jesus had told them to do prior to his ascension – he had told them to wait.
They were waiting for the promised Paraclete, the helper, the advocate, the encourager, the one that comes along side, the Holy Spirit – they didn’t have a clue how and when this was going to play out, but, since they trusted Jesus – they were waiting. They had been waiting for days, now, as the crowds in the streets grew, as the noise of the foreigners became more and more loud, 120 now unacceptable people were on the edge of their seats, the anticipation, the excitement that was only tampered by their fear, was at a climax.
Then something began to happen in the room, suddenly the noises from outside were eclipsed by the noises entering the room. It was as if hundreds of horses and chariots were rushing towards them, the place seem to shake and then it was as if the room could no longer hold them, they were pushed out into the crowd.
Not only were they now doing exactly what their fears told them not to do – don’t be noticed, don’t be seen. Now, they were even talking, now they were publicly sharing, they talking about Jesus, calling him the son of God, calling him God – the exact things that made you noticeable, the exact thing that could get them killed.
The was also the exact things they had learned and better understood during their forty days with Jesus following the resurrection. The exact things their 40 day crash course with Jesus had been about – to learn and understand what Jesus had taught them through his words and actions before the crucifixion….the things they had worked to understand and the things they now knew, these were the things they were now sharing.
This was not remaining invisible and unnoticeable, it was painting a large target on their back and yelling ‘Here I am, come and get me!’ Even though they were speaking to foreigners who spoke different languages, it was still a very risky move, and even more risky.
The thing was that they couldn’t help but speak, they were speaking truth, and truth is something that is difficult not to share with others. This was the core of their lives, they had to share because they not only had truth but they also had experienced love. That love had taught them compassion and mercy, they cared about the unknown foreigners. You cannot help but share love with those you love – even when it is dangerous.
It wasn’t just that they were talking, but that this truth and this love they spoke of was visible to the foreigners, not just through words but through their lives. Love translates in all languages, even if you don’t understand the same words.
There was one more surprise, the foreigners were the first to recognize it, they could understand the 120 excited individuals. Some in the crowd just wrote the 120 off as drunk, but thousands did understand, it was as if they were speaking this foreign language to the very foreigners that spoke that language. It was a message that could not be dismissed, it was the truth they had been looking for. It was the message of redemption on their holiday that observed God’s gift of redemption.
This was the beginning of the Church.
It was the Holy Spirit who made that loud arrival, it was the Holy Spirit who enable the willing foreigners to understand this foreign language, it was the Holy Spirit that gathered a new community that day, it was the Holy Spirit that enable the truth of love, the truth of redemption, the truth of forgiveness, the truth of God to a people who had been looking and hoping for it on their pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
As usual, there are significant words through which we can better understand this event of Pentecost, this day that enables us to grasp the truth of our redemption.
Today we have six words:
Fear and Peace
Receive and Filled
Retain and Forgive
Fear and Peace
Let’s go back to that moment in the locked room on the day of Jesus’ resurrection. The women had not yet made it to the fearful disciples to tell that the tomb was empty and that Jesus was alive – nor had they heard that they had seen and spoke with Jesus. All they knew was that they had deserted Jesus after he was arrested and now they were being hunted as accomplices of Jesus. They were huddled in a room fearful for their life.
As they hid in the room, with the door locked, Jesus appeared. Not a ghost but Jesus – he didn’t need a door. In the middle of their fear he appeared. As his presence pierced their fears, Jesus said the word ‘Peace’.
He then showed them is wounds and permitted them to touch him to discover that he was indeed Jesus and that he was alive. It was this moment that the disciples transitioned from being students of Jesus, students who followed him to learn, now they connected the dots….this was the son of God, God himself, their Savior, the Messiah.
This was the beginning of Christianity.
They believed, they accepted him, they embraced him, they trusted them with their life and they trusted him for life. They still had a choice, being made in the image of God, and they now, each one, made the choice to follow and to trust.
Where as, just moments before, they could only see their fears. The reality of their situation and circumstances had become a roadblock to see and understand what they understood from their final days with Jesus. Roadblocks do that, they block your path, they keep you from moving forward. All they had seen was the large sign that said ‘Road Closed – Go Back’, and now the sign was gone and they could move forward.
Jesus first word to the disciples had been ‘Peace’. The same word that Jesus spoke earlier to the women. Jesus’ call is for us to all live in peace, regardless of our situations or circumstances. This is an inexplicable peace that is only possible when Jesus is our focus and our core, he is our stability and balance, he is the anchor we hold to. Peace is always the only way we can leave the fear of the hiding room and past the roadblock of fear.
Receive and Filled
As Jesus revealed himself, in the security of the locked room, to the disciples, they now believed. Their faith was now grounded on a sincere and full acceptance of Jesus as God. As they accepted the divinity of Jesus, they also received the Holy Spirit. For the Spirit, too is God. It was the Holy Spirit that enabled them to have the peace that would permit them to leave the room, it was that peace that, later, will enable them to wait, even as fear is outside in the streets. In the same way we received the spirit so we, too, can leave the room of fear and move into trust, a trust that goes beyond our circumstances and situations. It goes beyond the noise in the streets. To believe and to receive is our choice, it is an action choice, Jesus said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’
Later, almost fifty days after Jesus breathed the Spirit into the followers in that locked room, we see them once again in a room, with scary unknowns waiting outside. Their presence in this room is not out of a fear that has them running away, instead this is a presence that is because they are running ‘to’. This peace, that is not because of their own strength, is only because they now have the Spirit, they are now able to trust and follow Jesus’ words to ‘Return to Jerusalem and wait.’ Scary, sure, but there they are, and soon they are outside. The Spirit not only ‘comes along side of us’ but the Spirit is also strategic. On this day, the followers needed power, a very strategic confidence that would not only push them out in the street but permit them to do what they naturally desired to do, speak truth, speak witness, to love and care for others by showing love and compassion through their very existence. The Spirit enabled them to be seen when their gut said to run and hide, to be invisible. The Spirit did not, and does not, take them over, they were not now puppets, the Spirit did not take away their ability to make their own choice, even to respond in fear, but the Spirit was along side them, and, in this moment of need, the Spirit gifted them with a power to live like Jesus, to share the truth of Jesus that they had worked to know an understand, and the power to be heard and understood.
Retain and Forgive
Back in the hiding room following the resurrection after the disciples received the Holy Spirit, Jesus intentionally said two other words – ‘Forgive’ and the word ‘Retain’. It was a word that defined the greatest roadblock, or the greatest freedom, that would exist in their future, in their ability to follow Jesus and to pursue the mission he would place in front of them.
Jesus spoke to the hurts and pains they had endured at the hands of others, he also spoke to their own weakness and actions that caused them to want to hide and ashamedly desert Jesus. Others hated them but they hated themselves even more, they resented their own actions as much as they resented the crowds. Jesus told them they had to let go, they had to release, their own painful actions as well as the hurts caused by others. This was the immediate roadblock they needed to address. Retaining their forgiveness of self and others, they were holding on those offenses. Whether it is your own offense or those of someone else – the process of retaining, of holding tight, to offenses of self and others keeps us from seeing Jesus and from seeing his peace, his hope and his love – it keeps us from following his call. Retention of forgiveness keeps us from letting the Spirit strategically fill us when we need the filling most.
The opposite of word ‘Retain’, ‘Forgive’ is the most practical of words. As we let go of our grasp and cease holding back forgiveness, we also let ourself move forward. As we can see beyond the roadblock of unforgiveness, of resentment and pain, of shame and regret, we can begin to see Jesus, we can live in peace. Peace and Forgiveness, Love and Hope, are all connected, they work in tandem to permit us to move on and forward rather than to run away and hide, to be able to give and receive love, to see the peace and hope that is there regardless of our circumstances and realities.
Forgiveness grants us freedom and a path ahead. No longer do we have to tightly grasp and retain our forgiveness, no longer is it our focus – as we release we are able to receive the Word that Jesus says before he says anything else – The beautiful and freeing words – PEACE and FORGIVE.
We are living in a time of Fear and Great Unknowns. We hear the problems going on outdside of our locked doors. Disease, Unrest, Violence, Hatred, Racism, Panic, are all overwhelmingly loud and shaking the buildings where we are hiding. God is still saying Peace, He is still the God that is Love, He still wants us to see past the roadblock of fear to see Hope, He is still with us in through the Holy Spirit who is still coming Along Side of Us.
What do you need to release? Who do you need to forgive? What roadblock is hiding Hope? What voice do you need to listen to?