Many Christians will celebrate the birthday of their religion this Sunday, better known as Pentecost. Fittingly enough, this holy day has a Jewish origin and a Greek name.
Before taking a new meaning for followers of Jesus, it was a harvest festival that recalled when God dictated laws for the 12 tribes of Israel at Mount Sinai (aka Horeb). Foremost of these laws are the 10 Commandments, basic moral laws long revered by Jews and Christians alike. The festival received its ancient Greek name from the timing of that historic occasion, which scripture recorded as on “the 50th” day after the Jews escaped slavery in Egypt. In Hebrew it is known as the Festival of Weeks (Hag ha Shavuot).
Christians tend to forget all of that, however. For us, Pentecost evokes images of supernatural fire, wind, and preaching, which are key elements of the day’s description in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles.
On Shavuot in Jerusalem less than two millennia ago, a clamor like that of a tornado filled a place where perhaps as many as 120 devotees of Jesus were seated. Then flames appeared to fall on each, resting gently without causing harm. Then, scripture says, they were filled with the spirit of God and began to speak of divine matters in a variety of languages they had never learned...