Updated: Sep 29, 2022
It is a feast for the senses with blowing wind and dancing flames, with a cacophony of languages and a flood of emotions, with the crush of crowds and yet an experience that narrows the spotlight to each individual person!
June 5, 2022
Dr. Todd R. Wright We read Luke’s account of Pentecost almost every year. It is a feast for the senses with blowing wind and dancing flames, with a cacophony of languages and a flood of emotions, with the crush of crowds and yet an experience that narrows the spotlight to each individual person! But the thing that caught my attention this year was the list of peoples. You know the one that begins with “Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia …” I had always assumed this was Luke’s way of fleshing out his claim that there were devout Jews from “every nation under heaven” gathered in Jerusalem for the festival. I had envisioned something like the parade of nations at the Olympics – all those flags, all those distinctive costumes, all those languages, all that joyful pride! But then I started asking questions:
The Message describes them as devout pilgrims. What drove them to come to Jerusalem? When I was planning to walk the Way of St. James in Spain for my sabbatical, I acquired a pilgrim’s credential – a bit like a passport – that I was to get stamped along the way to prove I really had made the pilgrimage for “religious or spiritual reasons, or at least an attitude of search.” So, were they there because they had some spiritual hunger that was not being satisfied at home? Or an adventurous spirit? Or were they at a cross-roads in their life? I met many people on the AT who were between jobs or relationships and seeking clarity. Was that why these people were pilgrims? Or was there some darker reason? Were they, maybe, praying for an end to a draught or the healing of a loved one? Were they grieving and seeking solace like those from Buffalo or Uvalde? Maybe they thought their prayers would be more powerful at the Temple.
The next logical question is … what did they find when they arrived in Jerusalem? In the Message, Luke says, “when they heard their own mother tongue being spoken, they were blown away!” Does that indicate they were lonely, isolated, maybe even discouraged? It is a hard thing to be far from home in a strange city. Eventually the excitement gives way to homesickness – a longing for a taste of familiar food, or a face that looks like yours, or someone to talk to who understands what you are saying without the hurdle of translators.
I also wondered … were some of them unwelcome there? I modified Luke’s list to try and get at this. Depending on the circumstances, I can imagine each of these groups being undesirable or unwanted. Right now, we accepting Ukrainians fleeing the war with open arms. We were less welcoming to Syrian refugees. Back during the World Wars people changed their names so they wouldn’t be obviously German. It was repeated more recently with Iranians. Are Russians feeling pressure to do the same now? Would Kenyans be embraced? (We are partner presbyteries, but do we treat each other like full partners?) How about Puerto Ricans? You cannot tell me that after Hurricane Marie they were treated equally, even though they are US citizens?
I know little about some of the groups listed by Luke or how they got along. But he mentions Mesopotamia and Egypt and at times they fought each other as well as oppressing and occupying Israel. Maybe there were other enemies listed. I’ve tried to capture that possibility by listing Israel and Palestine, as well as Ukraine and Russia. When pilgrims from waring countries met on the streets of the Holy City, did they bear fresh scars and carry old grudges? Or did they set aside those differences for the holiday – like those soldiers who, over 100 years ago, entered into a Christmas Eve truce and sang “Silent Night” in several languages across no man’s land?
All this is to say that I think the list of nations is more fraught than we normally assume – more raw and ragged, more wounded and warring, more broken and bruised. Luke tells us that it is for that crowd of people that the Holy Spirit comes! And yet, you will notice. the Spirit, does not blow through the entire city and flames do not alight directly on the heads of the pilgrims from all over the world. Instead, the Spirit comes to a small group of people – who have seen Jesus’ work firsthand among the sick and sinful; who have cheeks still stained with the tears of grief and fresh memories of being afraid; who are not counted among the powerful or the respected. Luke’s shorthand for this is to call them Galileans, which means they are outsiders and strangers to the ways of the Capital, just like the listed pilgrims. The Spirit works through this small group to proclaim God’s mighty deeds (and surprising attention) to strangers who differ in lots of unimportant ways, but are the same under the skin. [Please join me in re-reading the modified list of peoples highlighted in your bulletin.] The Spirit has come for these people too. And the Spirit is working through us. That’s the story of Pentecost in a nutshell. It has been 2,000 years, but the Spirit still blows! May the Spirit blow in our midst today … as we learn more about these countries, and pray for them, and write to them with words of blessing! [Each of you is sitting at a table with a station representing the countries on our modified list. Spend 10 minutes with your table-mates following the directions in your bulletin. After 10 minutes you will switch to a different station and repeat the steps.] May God make this a Pentecost experience for all of us! Amen
 This image is from the PCUSA’s Pentecost Offering materials  From https://oficinadelperegrino.com/en/pilgrimage/the-compostela/