Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are
speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear,
each of us, in our own native language?
Imagine not being able to understand someone and the frustration therein. Communication becomes simplified to pointing and smiling, shaking and frowning. Outside of learning how to say basic phrases and ask, “where is the bathroom,” or hello, goodbye, good and bad, one has little to say that would be understood. Understanding those who speak differently than us without learning the other’s language is and will always be limited and difficult. Even when we speak the same language, the slang variants from youth to adults as well as local dialects can make simple communication in the vernacular difficult.
Enter Pentecost. Pentecost’s origin story began fifty days after Passover as faithful Jewish pilgrims traveled from all over to Jerusalem. Upon entering the city they would descend upon the Temple area. Once gathered, they heard again the story of the law given to Moses and celebrated that gift of the Commandments holding them together in community. From the Christian perspective, Pentecost changes the common denominator of faith being focused upon the Law and instead seeing faith as being revealed by and spoken of by the Holy Spirit.
While those gathered had different dialects at the very least and disparate languages at the most, the Holy Spirit allowed all gathered to hear the cacophony of voices as if they were speaking each one’s native language. I liken it to this reality: if I spoke in English and there was someone beside me who only spoke Spanish, the Holy Spirit allowed my English to be heard as Spanish to the one beside me. Forget Rosetta Stone as a way to learn language, that is amazing. Simultaneously, I could understand in English the Spanish spoken beside me without Google Translate. There would not be any fear of misinterpretation of words, God’s got the translation covered.
The celebration of Pentecost marks the church speaking from different voices understanding each other. As a language of faith, the modern church has many branches with a shared motto of “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” Studying the ecumenical movement in seminary, I realized that each Christian denomination valued the centrality of Jesus, the significance of faith, and the necessity for baptism all while using different language to define each denomination’s set of beliefs. “We all desire the same goal of faith active in love that serves our Lord, Jesus Christ,” Prof. Rodney Petersen said. “The only difficulty is that we all speak that reality in a different way.”
As we celebrate Pentecost once again in June and hold fast to the Sundays after, may we live with the reality of the Holy Spirit activating faith in each of us. I give thanks that faith is always being made new with the gift of four new confirmands: Peyton DiNardo, Madeline Hopkins, Piper Hopkins, and Christopher Miller. Each will share their affirmation of baptism by writing what they believe about the Triune God, while each expressing it in their own voice. Their and our anchoring points are found in the Apostles’ Creed, even while we may express it in a unique and distinct way. Pentecost is the friendly reminder that the Holy Spirit is constantly granting us the faith we need to trust in the Triune God who speaks in so many languages that all may know and see and hear the goodness of God. Amen.