shavout

Waiting for the Promise of the Father

He ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
– Acts 1: 4-5

Pentecost is coming. Let’s see, which one is that? Oh yes, Acts 2: tongues of flame, speaking in strange languages, that slightly disturbing, mysterious-Holy-Spirit thing. Oh, and think of something red to wear to church.

These might have been my own thoughts two years ago when I sat spellbound in Jerusalem, listening to Dr. Rivkah Fishman, a lecturer on Jewish History at Hebrew University. She was explaining that Pentecost, this mysterious feast day I thought was a Christian invention, was actually a Jewish festival called Shavout in Hebrew, “the feast of weeks.” Seven weeks from Passover – 49 days after being freed from enslavement to Pharoah – the Jews commemorate the day God gave the Torah to Israel at Mt. Sinai.

Now, in 2015, it happened that the Jewish lunar calendar and the Christian liturgical calendar aligned, so we had the opportunity to experience something very special: the night before Shavout/Pentecost, thousands of Jews would gather at the sacred Western Wall to celebrate the Torah all night long. My friend Jim and I decided this was something we could not miss. So midnight on the eve of Pentecost we headed toward the Old City, all our senses in heightened alert as we hurried through the darkened maze of tunneled streets in the Muslim Quarter. I had the sensation of flowing through a series of culverts, then suddenly spilling into a vast, swirling sea of noise, light, movement, life at the Western Wall. Here were Ashkenazy, Sephardic, Ethiopian Jews, hundreds of men and boys dancing, singing, bobbing, reading aloud, parading their Torahs, rejoicing together! I wondered at their celebration of God’s giving of the Law; why do we Christians not celebrate this joyfully the priceless gift of the Gospel?

Next morning, Pentecost Sunday, I walked back to the Old City, to Christ Church, where I joined Christians and Messianic Jews from all over the world to worship and share the Eucharist. Very near the place where the Spirit, the Promise of the Father, had first descended upon Christ’s disciples, both men and women, hundreds of us sang and prayed in Hebrew and English. The atmosphere was jubilant, charged with anticipation; the Spirit was magnificently, palpably present. In his sermon, the radiant Messianic pastor talked of this day, when Jewish households commemorate the marriage of Ruth to Boaz (grandparents of King David) and celebrate the wheat harvest. He whispered of how these traditions point to the marriage feast of the Lamb, the Bread of Life. OH! In a flash my mind was opened, my heart burned at the fiery revelation of God from Old Testament to New! Ruth, an alien in Israel, found favor with God and became the ancestor of Mary, who found favor with God and became the mother of Jesus Christ! Pentecost, 49 days after Jesus’ resurrection freed us from enslavement to sin and death, celebrates the day God fulfilled His promise to “pour out My Spirit on all flesh“! It was almost too much to take in.

As I write this on Ascension Day, the day Christ spoke the words above to his followers, I consider how “they were all together in one place,” “constantly devoting themselves to prayer,” and I wonder…..

Come, Holy Spirit!