Let the Scriptures Speak
Have You Sent Your Pentecost Cards?
To each is given a manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (1 Cor 12:7)
Most folks send Christmas cards. A few send Easter cards. Somewhere, someone may send out cards to celebrate Pentecost, but I haven't heard about it. And yet, I submit, it may help us think about the importance of this feast if we consider possible reasons—apart from boosting the greeting card industry—for celebrating the occasion by designing and sending Pentecost cards.
Pentecost is more than the afterglow of Easter; it is Easter's culmination. The Jewish feast of Passover (commemorating the release from captivity) finds fulfillment in the feast of Weeks (pentecostes in Greek), commemorating the Sinai covenant. Similarly, Easter, celebrating the divine victory over the shame of death by crucifixion, finds its fuller meaning in the enlivening of the Christian community through the gift of the Holy Spirit. The thrust of Luke's history of the early Church in Acts is to illustrate how the risen Lord works through the community through its empowerment by the Holy Spirit. Weak Peter becomes a forceful leader. Incredulous disciples move from dejection into mission. The signs and wonders worked in Jesus' ministry by the power of the spirit now continue in the ministry of the “People of the Way.” Peter, addressing the Jerusalem authorities in Acts 11, can speak of Pentecost as the time “when we came to believe in the Lord Jesus” (Acts 11:17), because until they had received the gift of the Spirit, they were not able to recognize just how it was that the risen Jesus was their Lord. Finally, empowered for their prophetic mission, they came to full faith in Jesus' lordship over their lives. Doesn't this warrant a card?
We believe in a Church. Just as we rightly single out the wonders of the incarnation (Christmas) and the redemption (the Easter Triduum) for special celebration, ought we not to celebrate Pentecost as the birthday of the Church? For we do boldly assert, in the Nicene Creed, that we believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. That includes the remarkable conviction that the Spirit of the risen Lord directs and energizes a worldwide community of some two billion people baptized in the name of Jesus—half of us united with a pope and another half with whom we share an alliance wounded by past errors and agonies. While Christmas and Easter could leave us meditating in solitude at the crib scene or lost in wonder at the entrance of the empty tomb, Pentecost can awaken us to the startling communal dimension of our faith. We believe that the incarnate and risen Lord continues to work with this immense, sinful, gifted community to heal a wounded world. Doesn't this deserve at least a card?
Pentecost is about God-given unity in God-given diversity. When St. Paul wrote that first letter to the Christians in Corinth, he was addressing a group turned on to the spiritual gifts but divided by a variety of factions and rivalries. Some were boasting that the catechist who brought them into the faith was more authoritative than the teachers of others. Some were maintaining that their ability to speak in tongues indicated their superiority over others. Paul took the occasion of this division to teach clearly that any spiritual gift—healing, tongues, wisdom, leadership—was given not for the promotion of self but for the service and building up of the community.
To illustrate this insight, he developed his famous image of the body of Christ. Like the organs of a living body, the gifts of individuals derive their meaning not from their inherent excellence but from their contribution to the life of the body. What the Corinthians liked to call pneumatika (“spiritual things”) Paul preferred to call charismata (“gifts”). If there was ever a time when the church was suffering from the challenge of working out our diversity of gifts rooted in the unity of the one Lord it is now. This is another reason to celebrate Pentecost as the feast that shows us the source and purpose of our diversity of gifts. In Paul's language, every Christian is charismatic and Spirit-filled.
The marketplace may not be ready for the Pentecost card. But thinking about Pentecost in connection with those other card-linked feasts, Christmas and Easter, may help us recognize the pride of place this commemoration deserves in our calendar of celebrations. It is about God working with us. It points to life in the Church now, as we respond to the news of incarnation and redemption by using our diverse gifts for the service of the one body of Christ.
Dennis Hamm, SJ
Fr. Hamm is emeritus professor of the New Testament at Creighton University in Omaha. He has published articles in The Catholic Biblical Quarterly, The Journal Of Biblical Literature, Biblica, The Journal for the Study of the New Testament, America, Church; and a number of encyclopedia entries, as well as the book, The Beatitudes in Context (Glazier, 1989), and three other books.
**From Saint Louis University