The Power of the Holy Spirit
We celebrated the Ascension last week and at first, the Ascension probably seemed like a sad day for the apostles. Christ in his human form was leaving the world for the last time. Yet in reality, the contrary was true. St. Luke says that after the Ascension, the disciples returned to Jerusalem “with great joy”. The joy stemmed from their certainty that Christ would not be absent from the world but rather still be with them. Emboldened by the power of the Holy Spirit, they were told, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea……and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). With these words, Jesus took his leave of the Apostles.
This event must have so inspired the apostles, that thereafter, with missionary zeal, they began their witness; preaching and proclaiming the saving message of Christ’s death and Resurrection. His very words, with which St. Matthew’s Gospel ends, confirm this: “Obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Mt 28:20).
The Birthday of the Church
That’s why Pentecost is known as the ‘Birthday of the Church.’ In simple terms, the apostles went out among the people and began spreading Jesus’ message, establishing the beginning of the Church and fulfilling the promise that Jesus made to them before His death and Resurrection: “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you” (John 14:26).
Originally Pentecost was a Jewish feast that concluded 50 days of Passover celebrating the end of the barley harvest and the gift of the law to Moses at Mt. Sinai. Pentecost is Greek for 50th day and it is celebrated 50 days after Easter and as we know, marks the day that the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles after they had returned to Jerusalem. They were in Jerusalem, mostly likely, quite frightened, in prayer and in seclusion, while hiding behind locked doors. After receiving the power and gifts of the Holy Spirit in the form of tongues of fire, vast multitudes assembled around the Apostles, astonished at hearing themselves addressed in their own tongue.
Peter was the first to announce the good news of the gospel. Of those who heard Peter speak that day, 3000 were converted and the Church was born in response to Christ’s parting promise to the apostles: “And Jesus came and said to them, all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt 28:18-19).