In ancient Israel there were three major feasts: Passover or Unleavened bread, Weeks, called in Hebrew, Shavuot, and Booths (see Exodus 23:14-17, 34:22, and Deuteronomy 16:16). The Feast of Weeks occurred over seven weeks or 50 days after Passover and celebrates the end of harvesting grain. The Greek term for the Feast of Weeks is Pentecost, a word that literally means 50 days. We read about Pentecost and the Holy Spirit in Acts of the Apostles 2:1-17, in 1 Corinthians 12: 3b-7, 12-13, and in the Gospel of John, 20:19-23. (See Dennis Hamm, The Acts of the Apostles, Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2005, pp. 19-23).
After the Lord ascended into heaven, he did not leave his followers orphans. When Pentecost had come, “they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.” (Acts 2:1-3). This must have gotten the attention of everyone in that room.
In Acts 2:17, it says that Peter, head of the apostles, gave a speech reminding the group that made up the nucleus of the church what the prophet, Joel, said, “… in the last days, God says “I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visons.”(Joel 2:28). Though Israel experienced a special infusion of God’s spirit, now the gift of prophesy has been made available in an inclusive way, to all of humanity, transcending gender. (Hamm, p. 19).
Through the Holy Spirit, we’re connected to Abraham, Moses, Jacob, David, Mary, the mother of the Lord, and all the saints and holy people, such as Muhammad, who have lived on planet Earth. In this connection, I like this model of the church: “the Church is one Person (the Holy Spirit) present in billions of persons at the same time.” This means that the Church is synonymous with the mystery of grace. It also implies that the Holy Spirit is present in all of the world religions, since no one religion has a monopoly on the truth, nor on the Holy Spirit who moves in complete freedom.
As I read the Hebrew Scriptures, the New Testament, and the Qur’an, God remains present in all of us whether we’re aware of it or not. As Islam tell us, God is closer to us than our own jugular vein. God dwells in the innermost parts of our heart and soul. The presence of God in our hearts can’t be canceled or knocked out because of our weakness or infirmity. Though the air be full with the smell of hell, God takes up residence in our hearts.
Since the “Abode of God” lives within each of us, we need to remember that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. In the sight of God, we’re all of value, particularly since God doesn’t make junk. God is present in us not in a simple “Hello” and “Goodbye” way. Rather, it’s a permanent presence, that’s why we should think highly of who we are. The God within makes us pure, holy, and fruitful. The Spirit of God is the one Person without whom we can do nothing.
Today we can be taken up with the ‘noise’ around us and in us. We can be so bedazzled by the flashy lights in Times Square and Hollywood, that we’re blinded. Thus, we can easily overlook the Inner Light within us. Life on earth can be messy, particularly today with Covid-19 all around us. We live in "fear and trembling" wondering when our time is up or what will become of us or our family.
At the end of the day, we must kneel in awe before the mystery that is the Spirit of God within us. We must kindle our friendship with those whom we meet on the journey, wiping from our vocabulary such words as “foreigner, rival, and enemy.” For better or for worse, we’re all in this together. We’re to love one another as the Lord would have us do. We must, as the mystic and Quaker, Rufus Jones said, “be swallowed up in the Godhead,” remembering that each of us is an “organ of the divine purpose.”
As Pentecost beckons, let’s pray, “Come Holy Spirit, please come” into our inner self. Remember this: the Holy Spirit is known as the “Paraclete”, that is our Advocate, Helper or Comforter, particularly in these times of trial and tribulation.
Richard Penaskovic is an Emeritus Professor at Auburn University. His writings have appeared in the Birmingham News, Columbus- Ledger Enquirer, Montgomery Advertiser and online by Informed Comment and Politurco.