About fifteen years ago in the Midwest, the remnants of a Gulf hurricane wandered up into the Ohio River region. Its low pressure core went right under the West to East jet stream and pulled that very high and fast-moving air down to the ground…across hundreds of miles. At ground level, this Derecho was heard before the winds actually hit. There was a roar in the air unlike anything most folks had ever heard. The jet stream plunged down bringing its wind speed with it and there was a sound like a rushing violent wind. Such startling sound comes back to vivid recall on this Sunday of Pentecost! The followers of Jesus are all gathered in one place on this day of the Temple festival. And suddenly, there is God’s own Derecho, “a noise like a strong driving wind.” With the sound came tongues of fire which divided and came to rest on each one of those assembled together. The noise of a violent wind, the parted tongues of fire, and they all were filled with the Holy Spirit. Then another sound. All began to speak “in different tongues as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.” Welcome to this Sunday of the Derecho of the Lord!
Notice that St. Luke emphasizes the ecumenical character of this first gift of the Holy Spirit to the church. “Strong driving wind”? It filled the entire house. “Tongues of fire”? They came to rest upon each one of those gathered. “The outpouring of the Holy Spirit?” They were all filled with the Spirit. One of Luke’s favorite words is the Greek we translate as “all.” At the beginning of the Gospel, the Blessed Virgin Mary rejoices that “all generations will call me blessed” and on the night of the birth of the Messiah, the angel of the Lord proclaims to the shepherds “good news of great joy for all the people.” Now, here at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit is poured out on all those gathered together. And here at (name of the parish or other ministry setting) this good news of God’s holy work at Pentecost is also manifest.
All who are baptized into Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection,
all who go down to the waters and receive new birth,
all who are cleansed of sin in the waters of the Jordan,
all who are incorporated into the one holy, catholic, and apostolic church,
all who now share in the promise of eternal life,…
all receive the gift of the Spirit at Holy Baptism.
At the Easter Vigil, those Elect renounced Satan and all evil schemes and structures and went down into the waters of their salvation. Fresh from this bath, they were anointed with chrism, receiving the Holy Spirit. Many who remain “wet behind the ears” from their baptism at the Vigil will now testify, fifty days later, that God’s mighty wind continues to blow within their souls and throughout their relationships. The Derecho of God continues its energetic movement in their lives. But whatever the forecast, the wind of God is blowing over these baptismal waters and new members of the Body of Christ are now included among the all who receive the Holy Spirit. What has begun at that first Pentecost, through the grace of God, endures even now in our midst. So the church has many members but is one Body, as St. Paul reflected on the work of the Spirit. Many gifts for ministry, but all one in Christ. All the baptized are graced with the Spirit.
The story of Pentecost is not completed, though, with this ecumenical gift of the Spirit. St. Luke continues by citing the diversity of “devout Jews” who had gathered in Jerusalem for the festival. They were from all parts of the “world” as it was conceived in those days—from all nations. And attracted by the sounds of those gathered in that place, they became “confused” because each heard them speaking in his own language. This “speaking in tongues” was not some esoteric and unknowable speech. Rather, it was God’s mighty act of making the proclamation of the gospel, the good news, knowable in every language under the sun. Nor was this happening at Pentecost simply a reversal of Babel, recollecting that time when God confused the languages of a people who thought themselves equal to God. This miracle at Pentecost was precisely not a return to the pre-Babel one language of all people. Instead, everyone can hear the church’s proclamation in their own language. So look on the web sites of many of our churches. There will be listings for Masses in Spanish, English, Filipino, Vietnamese or one of the Eastern European languages. Here is Pentecost’s miracle alive and growing in our midst. But as each in the crowd heard in their own “dialect;” the meaning extends from their particular language to an entire culture. So the architecture of worship spans from the plain white-washed, undecorated chapels of the monasteries where the liturgical movement began in Switzerland and Germany to the interior of the Mission San Xavier del Bac on the Tohono O'odham Reservation south of Tucson where there is hardly a square inch of wall space not ornamented in the colorful style of this native American people.(1) The visual environment of worship comprises part of our marvelously diverse dialects. Shared song, too, is a dialect in which we praise the Triune God and sing of our faith, whether in the chant of a Benedictine monastery or the African American gospel songs beloved among Black Catholics. So at the heart of the miracle of Pentecost is the proclamation that every culture and every people’s language will be graced by the Spirit to hear and receive the gospel of Jesus Christ. Those seeking faith do not need to turn to the language of the Roman Empire, or any empire to hear the Good News. It is the Spirit-inspired gift that allows all peoples to hear the Good News in their own tongue
Then we are led by the Spirit to consider how radical the meaning of Pentecost is in the midst of our world. That first Pentecost saw the mighty wind of the Spirit affirming the culture of each people while blowing away any pretext of superiority or inferiority. Those tongues of fire were given to all and not just to some. Meanwhile, on this Pentecost Sunday, we see a country depressed and anxious, horribly divided on most every social and political issue. We learn of mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, Texas and we hear the same either-or formulas coming from politicians and the media. Times are tough, with Covid refusing to go away, with Putin’s brutal war on Ukraine, with shortages in food and even infant formula, with skyrocketing costs of most everything. But here, on this Feast of Pentecost, we can retrieve the language of God’s love, to “advocate for language to be large enough, to be good enough.”(2) A language not frozen into polarities or constrained by ideology. Of course, the world will think us drunk with new wine (Acts 2:13) and will sneer at such crazy talk. We will probably continue to be scorned and belittled. But our dialect as God’s Spirit-infused people is to speak with love, a speech that is good enough to befit the gospel. The language of Pentecost will then, of course, bear fruit in acts of compassion and of justice-making. Thanks be to the Holy Spirit.
1 For an interpretation of “The White Dove of the Desert” mission and for information on the Tohono O’odham Nation see: “San Xavier del Bac Mission,” https://sanxaviermission.org/tohono-oodham-nation.
2 Pádraig Ó Tuama, “Seeking Language Large Enough,” The On Being Project, May 28, 2022, accessed May 28, 2022, https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/?pc=topnav-about-en#inbox/FMfcgzGpGKTtlsfMSjhhbJxmMWpRFzTh.