The Feast of Pentecost is the birthday of the Church and the inauguration of its universal mission. Other New Testament passages suggest otherwise, but for the purpose of this meditation, the story told in Acts 2 is a new and powerful beginning.
At the command of Jesus, the disciples remain in Jerusalem awaiting the promise of the Father (Luke 24:49, Acts 1:4). On the day of Pentecost, 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection, they are “all together in one place” (Acts 2:1). This is likely a reference to the whole crowd of believers, numbering 120, including certain women, the mother of Jesus, and Jesus’ brothers. The Holy Spirit sounds forth as “the rush of a violent wind that filled the whole house” (Acts 2:2). Spatially, the Spirit is entirely present in one place and in every part of that place. This is the Holy Spirit who empowers the disciples to be “witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
As a sign of their future mission, the disciples burst forth in speech intelligible to the multinational Jewish residents of the city, who, though sharing a common language, have distinctive dialects. The disciples, too, being Galileans, have their own distinctive speech. And yet everyone understands everything, namely, “the wonders of God” (Acts 2:11). Explaining these works, Peter says: “This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear” (Acts 2:32-34). Peter points also to prophecy: “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams” (Acts 2:17). The Holy Spirit, sometimes called the Spirit of Christ, is given to all collectively, a point made elsewhere with special force in the story of the risen Lord breathing his Spirit upon the disciples on the evening of his resurrection (John 20:19-23).
The account in Acts 2, however, has a particular concern to show not only the universality of the Church — all gathered together, all speaking in languages understood by all — but also the dispersal of the Spirit: “Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them” (Acts 2:3). As Christ compels us, let us be bold to think as theologians; it will not hurt. He appeared under the form of divided tongues of fire that rested upon each one of those who were present: upon each member of the body of Christ. “This is no longer a communication of the Spirit to the Church considered corporately. This communication is far from being a function of unity. The Holy Spirit communicates Himself to persons, marking each member of the Church with a seal of personal and unique relationship to the Trinity, becoming present in each person. … [This gift is] fully ours, adapted to our persons” (Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, p. 168). This is an extraordinary insight.
While we are gathered as one body in Christ, the members of the body each have a full, unique, and secret gift of the Spirit. Persons, therefore, are not simply absorbed into a larger corporate or even mystical whole, but called forth as unique persons in Christ who have a vocation and an irreducible dignity grounded in the gift of the Holy Spirit. Every believer is a temple of the Holy Spirit.
Look It Up: Read Rom. 8:14.
Think About It: The Church grows when you become yourself.