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The Birth of the Church

When are the Word and Spirit celebrated together?

Our God is a God of history. He creates stories for us, sequences of events that teach us more about Him. Many of these are in His book, the Bible. The problem is that we are not always aware of the big picture, the back story behind some of these events. A very good example is the Feast of Pentecost.

We all know what happened to that group of Jesus’ disciples as they were gathered together in Jerusalem.

“When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken.”(Acts 2:1-6)

This is familiar to us and we identify this as the point when the Church came into existence. Yet one question rarely asked is why were there God-fearing Jews from every nation in Jerusalem?

They weren’t there for Pentecost (as it hadn't happened yet!), but they were there for religious reasons, they were obeying a command from God, (Exodus 23:17).

"Three times a year all the men are to appear before the Sovereign LORD."

One of these three occasions was Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks, its name an indication of when it should be celebrated, seven weeks after the feast of Passover. Pentecost itself follows in this tradition, its name meaning “fiftieth”, to be celebrated 50 days after Easter.

Jerusalem was packed with pilgrims from all over the Jewish world at that time. They were there for Shavuot, a festival with a very important association with the Word of God. Passover is a remembrance of Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt in the Exodus. Seven weeks after that event was the giving of the Law, including the Ten Commandments, to Moses at Mount Sinai. So Shavuot celebrates the Law, just as Pentecost celebrates the Holy Spirit. Isn’t that incredible, Law and Spirit both celebrated on the same day! The trouble is that the Church may celebrate the latter, but tends to neglect the former. Not so much the Orthodox Jewish community, who still revere the law so much that they recite from it all through the night. Oh that the Church should have such reverence for The Word!

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