On the day of Pentecost, 120 people gathered in the Upper Room where Jesus instituted the holy Eucharist. According to the law of Israel, this was the number needed for the ideal worshipping community. They assembled as men and women focused on God and prayer. In the middle of their prayer they experienced the powerful presence of God the Holy Spirit.
“And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues of fire, which parted and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim”(Acts 2:1-4).
Armed with the fire of the Spirit, and with ecstatic speech on their lips, they flowed out of the Upper Room into the square. Pilgrims from 15 nations were gathered to come closer to God. In a spirit of wonder, they vibrated happily with the contagious enthusiasm of the people from the Upper Room as well as the language miracle. They all heard the story of the power of the Holy Spirit — each in his or her language. This was a fleeting moment, when the people from many nations paused from their differences. Profound community was experienced.
The artists of the Middle Ages loved to contrast the babbling and alienated mob of the “Tower of Babel” with the restful, loving and united language from the “Tower of the Holy Spirit’s Upper Room.” Babel symbolized the fundamental divisions of people caused by selfishness and sin. Penteocst stood for the blessed assurance that such division was no longer a tragic necessity for mankind. The Holy Spirit arrived with enough love that it could unite all people, should they be open to this divine gift. The seizure by the Spirit was a guarantee that the horizons of human unity are not simply a dream, but an achievable reality.
Pentecost also witnessed the first missionary sermon, which was delivered by Peter. He reminded the listeners that the prophet Joel predicted that in the final age of mankind the Holy Spirit will be available for those with faith to accept this gift. “I will pour out my spirit to all mankind. Your sons and daughters shall prophecy. Your old men shall dream dreams. Your young men will see visions” (Joel, 3:1).
The dreams of the old and the visions of the young have the same message, namely, a God-given insight into the history of salvation. Once Peter established Joel’s prophecy as a forecast of Pentecost, he relates it to the mission and ministry of Jesus. Every missionary after this will follow Peter’s example. His call to conversion must include adherence to the person and work of Jesus Christ. Through Peter, the Spirit speaks, “Jesus Christ is Lord and Christ.” That day, 3,000 people opened their hearts to God’s Spirit. They celebrated the occasion with baptism.
Norbertine Fr. McBride is a popular lecturer and author of more than 40 books.