A tribute to the life and work of Brian Torode
Pentecost – or more familiar to people of my generation – Whitsun – is one of the most important festivals in the Church Calendar, second only to Easter and perhaps we need to unpack the significance of both of these titles before we consider why it is such an important milestone in the history of our faith.
‘Pente’ is word of Greek derivation meaning 50 and for the Jews it marks several important events in their spiritual history – it marks the anniversary of the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai. Pentecost is also a Jewish creation festival, marking one of the three Harvest celebrations in the Jewish calendar. It is also called the Feast of Weeks – seven weeks, fifty days, after Passover, celebrating the survival of the Jewish children when the angel of death had passed over and killed all the first born male babies in Egypt. So a very important time for Jews and no wonder the Apostles were all gathered in Jerusalem at this time to do what religious custom dictated – worship in the Temple.
And in this observance of the Jewish Festival of Pentecost which the Apostles were sharing, we can see how very much our celebrations are founded on Jewish tradition and observance – the Old Testament Law which Jesus came not to destroy but to fulfil.
Here at Pentecost, the Apostles were in their capital city ostensibly celebrating this great Jewish festival, but their celebration was overshadowed by the loss of the one with whom they had hoped to be sharing it – Jesus.
Uncertain about their future, puzzled by what they had experienced at Ascension, they were confused and frightened and expectant – and what could they do but spend their time in prayer awaiting that promised Comforter that they had been promised. Ten days they waited and waited and waited, not daring to return to their homes, not daring even to go out into the street, when suddenly – and here St Luke excels in his description, suddenly the room was filled with noise and wind and flames and… Well, the Apostles must have been terrified, but as they huddled closer together in fear, something happened to them that they had never experienced before. They were injected with new life, excitement, hope and confidence, so much so that when they put their new found courage to the test and went out to face the crowds, everyone thought they were drunk.
We cannot possibly imagine how fired up with excitement the Apostles were but a transformation had taken place just as Jesus had said it would and there was no holding them back. From that moment the promise of the risen Lord had been truly fulfilled, he had showered upon them the gift of His Holy Spirit and they were new men ready to face the world. The celebration of the Giving of the Law to Moses which is the reason they were in Jerusalem, is now turned into a celebration of the Giving of the Good News to the Apostles .
On Ascension Day, we saw the completion of Jesus earthly ministry, the completion of the delivery of the whole package that started with his birth, a whole package to put it crudely, that saw its fulfilment in his death and resurrection. The story could have ended there, but it didn’t. Having prepared them in every possible way for that event, Jesus handed over his entire work to the Apostles, but he was well aware that they would need help to continue what he had inaugurated. That help came in the form of the Holy Spirit, not to do the work for them but to bring out of them what was already inside of them. The presence of the Holy Spirit awakened new energy inside them, energy and enthusiasm that they thought was dead, it revived their drooping spirits so that they were able to do things they didn’t believe they were capable of.
It is significant that those disciples who had fled from the soldiers and abandoned Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemene and who had been conspicuous by their absence during Jesus arrest and trial and crucifixion, those same men were now empowered to take up the reins again and go forth in confidence, with power to continue the work for which they had been chosen and prepared .
Pentecost is perhaps better known as I said earlier, as Whitsun, whit being an anglo saxon word introduced as a description for today after the Norman conquest. The word whit meant knowledge, understanding, wisdom and one can easily see that the gifts that the Holy Spirit gave to the apostles on this day were exactly that – power, knowledge and understanding to preach the Gospel – so Whit-Sunday, wisdom Sunday, became fashionable until it was high-jacked and became associated with the white garments that baptism candidates were given to wear on this particular day.
Today then, is the celebration of the birth of the Christian Church through the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles so that they could become confident and energetic ambassadors for Christ.
Let us make today the day on which we pray earnestly that the Holy Spirit will release our gifts, our talents and give us the power to become energetic 21st century witnesses for Christ.