Last week, I promised to elaborate a bit on a point I made in my homily: that the apostles and disciples of Jesus would be transformed by the Ascension, election of Matthias, and the Pentecost. Today, we come to the culmination of these events: the Pentecost.
At the Ascension, Jesus took his seat at the right hand of the Father. When Christ ascended to his throne in Heaven, God fulfilled the promise he had made to King David a thousand years earlier: that a David’s descendant would sit on the royal throne forever. (cf. 2 Samuel 7:12-13) The earthly portion of this kingdom was entrusted to Christ’s regents, the Apostles, who were commissioned to rule in his stead.
The election of Matthias helps us understand what is happening. King David appointed ministers to rule over each of the tribes of Israel. Over time, ten of those tribes were lost to war and conquest. Those tribes had been dispersed over the world. God had promised Israel that the tribes would be reunited into one nation and brought into their homeland. By appointing twelve apostles, Christ was bringing this promise to the forefront of people’s minds. The one nation was the Kingdom of God, which Christ showed us was not a political kingdom, but a kingdom mystically united by the Holy Spirit, a kingdom which transcends earth. The homeland of this people was, similarly, not on this earth, but in Heaven. The extraordinary Letter to Diognetus, written between 130AD and 200 AD, explains how Christians live in this mystical nation and heavenly homeland. The author writes “there is something extraordinary about [the Christians’] lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. […] They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the laws, they yet live on a level that transcends the law. Christians love all men, but all men persecute them.”1
Jesus, a descendent and son of David, had appointed ministers over the twelve tribes. With the loss of Judas, their number was no longer complete. With the election of Matthias as the “new” 12th apostle, the apostles were again complete and ready to assume headship over the Kingdom which Jesus had left for them.
Everything is now prepared for Pentecost. Christ has assumed his throne, taking headship over the Body of Christ. The mystical Kingdom of God had been established both in Heaven and on Earth. One element remained: the coming of the Holy Spirit of God.2 In Acts of the Apostles, we are told that this occurred when the time for Pentecost was fulfilled. (Acts 2:1) Pentecost was—well, still is—a major Jewish feast day, where the giving of the Torah—the Law—on Mount Sinai is remembered. It is time for the fulfillment of this feast, Luke tells us. The prophet Jeremiah told us that God would make a new covenant in which he would write his law upon our hearts. (Jeremiah 31:33) Jesus told us that he did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. (Matthew 5:17) How was a covenant ratified in the Old Testament? A sacrifice was made, cut in half, and the parties to the covenant walked between the two. The sacrifice was then burnt in offering to God.
Let us put this all together. On Good Friday, Jesus offered himself as sacrifice for us. In doing this, he destroyed sin. On Easter Sunday, Jesus rose from the dead, destroying death and showing us that we are called to life everlasting. On the Ascension, Jesus left Earth and entered Heaven. While he is mystically still united with us as his Church, we are also separated. On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit of God rushes upon the Body of Christ gathered and tongues of fire came to rest on all of those gathered. At Pentecost, the day on which the Jewish people celebrate God giving us his law, Jeremiah’s prophesy was finally fulfilled. God said, “I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (31:33) The Holy Spirit came upon Church and set their hearts on fire. What did he write on their hearts to set them ablaze? Love.3 Immediately after God wrote this gift, this new law, of love for God into their hearts, the Body of Christ proclaimed the Gospel to all present. The power of their proclamation transcended all barriers, even of language. The people were astounded and amazed. Thousands received baptism and became followers of Christ on that day.
Pentecost is one of the most important feast days of the Church. This is the day that the sacrifice Christ began on Good Friday finally comes to completion. This is the day that God bestowed the Holy Spirit upon his adopted children and in doing so united us to his only begotten Son. This is the day the Holy Spirit wrote the love of God into our hearts. This love, brought to us by the Holy Spirit, is the breath of life in the Body of Christ. This love, this breath of life, this loving breath of creation, animates the Church and the Kingdom of God to this day.
Today, the Kingdom of God is here. Let us repent and believe in the Gospel, so that the fire of love God has set in our hearts will not be smothered but allowed to grow.
The Lord is Risen. Alleluia.
May 31, 2020
Readings at the vigil: Genesis 11:1-9; Psalm 33:10-11, 12-13, 14-15; Exodus 19:3-8A, 16-20B; Daniel 3:52, 53, 54, 55, 56 or Psalm 19:8, 9, 10, 11; Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 107:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9; Joel 3:1-5; Psalm 104:1-2, 24 & 35, 27-28, 29-30; Romans 8:22-27; John 7:37-39
Readings on the day: Acts 2:1-11; Psalm 104:1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13; Veni Sancte Spiritus (Sequence); John 20:19-23
- Letter to Diognetus, n. 5, from http://www.vatican.va/spirit/documents/spirit_20010522_diogneto_en.html
- Fun fact: this is not the first time the Holy Spirit shows up. The Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary at the Incarnation, he came upon Jesus, at least twice, and the Gospel of John tells us that the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles when he gave them the power to forgive and retain sins.
- St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on John 9-21, C. 20, L. 4, n. 2540.