Sunday, January 22, 2017

20 Mysteries: The Descent of the Holy Spirit

Acts of the Apostles 2:1-41:

[1] And when the days of the Pentecost were accomplished, they were all together in one place: [2] And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a mighty wind coming, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. [3] And there appeared to them parted tongues as it were of fire, and it sat upon every one of them: [4] And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they began to speak with divers tongues, according as the Holy Ghost gave them to speak. [5] Now there were dwelling at Jerusalem, Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. 
[6] And when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded in mind, because that every man heard them speak in his own tongue. [7] And they were all amazed, and wondered, saying: Behold, are not all these, that speak, Galileans? [8] And how have we heard, every man our own tongue wherein we were born? [9] Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, [10] Phrygia, and Pamphylia, Egypt, and the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, 
[11] Jews also, and proselytes, Cretes, and Arabians: we have heard them speak in our own tongues the wonderful works of God. [12] And they were all astonished, and wondered, saying one to another: What meaneth this? [13] But others mocking, said: These men are full of new wine. [14] But Peter standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and spoke to them: Ye men of Judea, and all you that dwell in Jerusalem, be this known to you, and with your ears receive my words. [15] For these are not drunk, as you suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day: 
[16] But this is that which was spoken of by the prophet Joel: [17] And it shall come to pass, in the last days, (saith the Lord,) I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. [18] And upon my servants indeed, and upon my handmaids will I pour out in those days of my spirit, and they shall prophesy. [19] And I will shew wonders in the heaven above, and signs on the earth beneath: blood and fire, and vapour of smoke. [20] The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and manifest day of the Lord come. 
[21] And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord, shall be saved. [22] Ye men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you, by miracles, and wonders, and signs, which God did by him, in the midst of you, as you also know: [23] This same being delivered up, by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, you by the hands of wicked men have crucified and slain. [24] Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the sorrows of hell, as it was impossible that he should be holden by it. [25] For David saith concerning him: I foresaw the Lord before my face: because he is at my right hand, that I may not be moved.

[26] For this my heart hath been glad, and my tongue hath rejoiced: moreover my flesh also shall rest in hope. [27] Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, nor suffer thy Holy One to see corruption. [28] Thou hast made known to me the ways of life: thou shalt make me full of joy with thy countenance. [29] Ye men, brethren, let me freely speak to you of the patriarch David; that he died, and was buried; and his sepulchre is with us to this present day. [30] Whereas therefore he was a prophet, and knew that God hath sworn to him with an oath, that of the fruit of his loins one should sit upon his throne. 
[31] Foreseeing this, he spoke of the resurrection of Christ. For neither was he left in hell, neither did his flesh see corruption. [32] This Jesus hath God raised again, whereof all we are witnesses. [33] Being exalted therefore by the right hand of God, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath poured forth this which you see and hear. [34] For David ascended not into heaven; but he himself said: The Lord said to my Lord, sit thou on my right hand, [35] Until I make thy enemies thy footstool.
[36] Therefore let all the house of Israel know most certainly, that God hath made both Lord and Christ, this same Jesus, whom you have crucified. [37] Now when they had heard these things, they had compunction in their heart, and said to Peter, and to the rest of the apostles: What shall we do, men and brethren? [38] But Peter said to them: Do penance, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of your sins: and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. [39] For the promise is to you, and to your children, and to all that are far off, whomsoever the Lord our God shall call. [40] And with very many other words did he testify and exhort them, saying: Save yourselves from this perverse generation. 
[41] They therefore that received his word, were baptized; and there were added in that day about three thousand souls.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Now and forever. Amen.

Surprise! I had a bit of extra time this weekend, so I thought, why not? Let's write another post!

This is the Third Glorious Mystery, the Descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and Mary.

I would like to introduce a clear timeline of events here, beginning with the Feast of Unleavened Bread, or the Pasch. This feast was a week-long event, beginning on the 14th day of Nisan (Saturday - the Great Sabbath), and ending on the 21st day of Nisan (Saturday). This feast commemorated the Passover, when God freed the Israelites from Egypt. Jesus died on the Friday of this feast, and the feast concluded on the Saturday that He was in the tomb.

Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday, and began appearing to the Apostles for 40 days, starting from that Sunday. Pentecost is a Greek term meaning "fiftieth day", and was used by the Hellenized Jews to refer to the Feast of Weeks (Exodus 34:22, Deuteronomy 16:10), also called the Feast of First Fruits or Feast of the Harvest (Exodus 23:16, Numbers 28:26). The reason it was called Pentecost is because this feast fell on the fiftieth day after Passover, and commemorated the day that Moses received the Law on Sinai, which occurred 49 days from the Exodus, or 50 days from the Passover.

So, Jesus ascended to the Father on the fortieth day after Passover, and ten days later, at Pentecost, the Apostles received the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus had promised to send with power. That's the timeline we're looking at.


Let's take a closer look at this feast that the Jewish people celebrated. As I just said, it is a commemoration of the day that Moses received the Law from God. This was the Law of the Old Covenant. We have to remember why this Law was given.

The Law of Moses was given within a very specific context: that of God freeing His people from oppression under Egyptian rule. We tend to think of the Law (any law) as limiting freedom, but in the context of Salvation History, the Law is part of the freedom that God is giving to His people.

What happens when Moses comes down from the mountain with the Tablet of the Ten Commandments? He sees his people worshiping a golden calf, one of the gods of Egypt. From that moment forward, the Law as added to, not just including the Ten Commandments, which are essential to the moral life, but also all the Laws pertaining to ritualistic sacrifice and cleanness. Why? Because they had to learn to let go of the idolatry of Egypt. They were worshiping a golden calf, so now the Law required them to offer up animal sacrifice--in essence, offering up their previous object of worship to the Lord, the greater God. Letting go of this idolatry, and entering into the moral life is part of the Exodus, the exit from oppression, and preparation for entry into the Promised Land.

Jesus dies during the feast of the Passover, establishing the New Passover, whereby the blood of the True Lamb would be the means of salvation from sin and death. Along with this New Passover comes a New Covenant, and therefore a New Law, which is established fittingly during Pentecost.

Within this context, we should continue to understand the Law as being a means of freedom. Jesus frees us from sin and death through His self-sacrifice. We enter into the Exodus from sin, and He establishes a New Law, which He taught during His sermon on the Mount. Just as He passed the Law to His people through Moses, now He passes the Law to His people through the Church.

And coming down out of the upper room, just as Moses came down from the mountain, the Apostles bring the New Law to the people. But what is this New Law? The Law of Moses was central to the Jewish life. The New Law is central to the Christian life. It is nothing other than Jesus, Himself. Peter teaches, in coming down from the Upper Room with this New Law, that Jesus was with them, proven by God through many signs and miracles, that he was crucified, put to death, and that He rose again to life, that "whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord, shall be saved," and "Do penance, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of your sins: and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost," and "Save yourselves from this perverse generation."

And just as Moses, upon seeing the error of the Israelite's idolatry, received again the Law from God, and new Laws to bring them back to the truth, to God, so too, throughout Christian history, whenever an error has begun to spread through the Christian community, the Church declares, clearly and forever, the truth that Her people might return to the True Christ.

This Pentecost is also called the Feast of the First Fruits. And this is fitting, because it is on this day that the Apostles, having received the gift of the Holy Spirit, go out into Jerusalem and gather the first fruits of the harvest of the Church. She harvested three thousand souls that day, and this was the first fruit of the work of the Church, the first fruits of the New Creation.

The Book of Ruth

The Book of Ruth was traditionally read during the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost). This is important, because it is a signal about universality of the New Covenant. The Book of Ruth is a short story, containing only four chapters, and tells the story of Ruth, the great-grandmother of King David. I'll give the story briefly here.

The story goes that a man named Elimelech and his wife Noemi left Bethlehem and went to the land of Moab, which was a pagan land. There, their two sons took Moabite wives, one of which was Ruth. In time, Elimelech dies, and then so do both of his sons. So, Noemi is left alone with her two daughter-in-laws; Ruth and Orpha.

Noemi decides to return to Bethlehem, and lets Ruth and Orpha return to their families. Orpha goes, but Ruth chooses to stay with Noemi. Noemi warns that may only return to Bethlehem with her if she gives up her old gods and begins to worship the God of Israel. Ruth agrees.

They return to Bethlehem, but Noemi is a widow, considered cursed by God, and so is Ruth, and Ruth is a Moabite to boot, so they have no expectations of a good life. Noemi, who at this time is already an old woman, sends Ruth out to the fields to collect any corn that is left over from the reaping. She happens to go to a field owned by Booz (or Boaz), who happens to be a close relative of Noemi. Booz can see Ruth's virtue, and realizing her relation to him through Noemi, permits her to collect corn from his own fields, uninhibited, despite being a Moabite.

Noemi is grateful for their good fortune, and directs Ruth to present herself to Booz for him to take her as his wife. She does so, and he is astonished that she would respect Israelite law which commanded that widows could only take a new husband who was a relative of their late husband. He was especially astonished because he was already and older man, and she could have taken a younger man.

He, respecting the Law also, realizes there is another man who is closer kin, than he is, and that he by right should take her as wife first, before he. He presents Ruth to this other man, who chooses to decline the right for the sake of the family he already has. So, Booz then takes Ruth as his wife, and Noemi as his mother-in-law, and they are blessed by God for their adherence to the Law, and give birth to a son, who turns out to be the grandfather of King David.

The Jews traditionally read this story at Pentecost because of theme of the wheat harvest, which is a big part of the feast. However, within Christian theology, this story has deeper significance, and I see it as foreshadowing that the Jews read this at this time.

There are two major themes that are important in this story as they relate to the New Covenant. The first is that of repentance. This is a story about a woman who went with her husband out of the land of Israel, into the land of Moab. Being a pagan land, this may be understood to symbolize sin. So, this woman turns from God and turns to sin. In Moab, her husband and two sons die. This can be understood to be the curse of sin: death. Noemi even says in the story, "I went out full, and the Lord hath brought me back empty." She even changes her name from Noemi, which means beautiful, to Mara, which means bitter.

However, it is upon returning to Bethlehem, to the land of Israel, that she begins to receive new blessings. She receives a new son (Booz) and grandson (Obed).

It is also significant that the town in the story that we read about is Bethlehem (House of Bread). Leaving Bethlehem, they become cursed, and returning to Bethlehem, they are blessed. It is a great sign pointing to Jesus: leaving Jesus, we become cursed (by sin) and returning to Him we are blessed.

The second important theme in this story that is highly important in the New Covenant, and that is its universality. Ruth is not an Israelite, but she is brought into the Bethlehem community. She has chosen to leave her old Gods, and accept the God of Israel, and respect His Laws. Booz is absolutely a Christ figure in the story. Noemi, a member of God's people, goes out into the world, brings back a woman who has chosen to worship the True God, she places herself at the feet of Booz, and he accepts her as his bride. And through all this, the Law is respected and followed.

The blessings of God are not reserved only for the Jewish people now, they belong to all who come to Christ.

Tongues of Fire

Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to the Apostles in power. But in what form does the spirit come? "And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a mighty wind coming, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them parted tongues as it were of fire, and it sat upon every one of them: And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost."

What's happening here is very important. The presence of God in Jewish lore was frequently identified as wind, or cloud. Life is the "breath" of God. So, the wind is something the Apostles would have immediately recognized as the presence of God. Fire was also an image of God in the Old Testament. So here, we have double confirmation about the presence that has come among them.

But what form did that fire take? Tongues. Why tongues? That's a very important question. We know that the Apostles were immediately filled with the gift of tongues, and immediately went out to preach to all who came to them, and all who came to them, regardless of their language, understood the Apostles in their own tongue. So, the gift is certain an outcome of the Holy Spirit coming to them.

I think, though, that the form of the gift, as tongues of fire, signifies something deeper. The Jews, for all intents and purposes, were Scripturists. They were the original holders of Sola Scriptura. They held to the Law, as it was written down, fastidiously. Indeed, when Moses received the Law, it was written down in stone, a Law that was firm and unchanging.

The Apostles didn't receive a Law written in stone, though. They received tongues of fire. This marks a significant shift in how God's governance would be transmitted to His people. Rather than relying solely on the written word of the Torah as the sole source of rites and Law and morality, now the Church, the Apostles, have received that authority as a Charism of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit would speak through them, would transmit truth and law and ritual through them, rather than relying strictly upon an unchanging written Law. The Church has now been imbued with the authority of God, protected from error by the Charism of the Holy Spirit, and has the capacity to make and change laws according to the time and place and needs of Her people. Not moral laws, but ritual laws, governmental laws. The moral laws are unchanging, but the Church now has the ability to clarify that which is unchanging, to interpret it anew for each new culture, to make it sensible within the context of different thought patterns and cultural sensibilities.

This is the significance of the tongues of fire: that they represent the authority of God and to transmit that authority through the spoken word, through the preaching and teaching of the Apostles.

Jesus entrusted them with the Deposit of Faith during the forty days, that time of preparation, and then sent His Holy Spirit to empower them to transmit that Deposit faithful, inerrantly, in their teachings.

What a great and marvelous God we have!

God bless you, and thank you for reading.

No comments:

Post a Comment