What does it all mean – this giving of the Spirit?
Well it marks a new chapter in what was then of course, for Jesus’ followers, still the “Jewish “ religion. The followers of Jesus didn’t understand themselves as being separate from Judaism – they saw the Jesus way as being the next step, a new and profound development in the Jewish understanding of God.
Until then in the Jewish religion as it had developed, God was located and could be apprhended in two main ways. There was the word of God – the law – the written word revealed and written in the Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew scriptures) and also the Temple - in the holy of holies - where God was thought to be especially present.
Both centres of Judaism – Temple and law - were though outside of the individual. Word and divine presence were separate from the individual.
In my understanding, the true meaning of Pentecost is that these two centres of Judaism were combined and the locus of God was changed from outside the person to within the person.
The location of God was removed from the boundaries of a Temple made of stone and re-located to the human heart. Using the picture symbolism of the Gospel the curtain of the Holy of Holies, the place where God especially dwelt at the centre of the Temple was ripped from top to bottom.
The words of the law written in a book or rather on scrolls at that time: (Cue old joke...Has he got the scrolls? No he always walks like that.) That was replaced by God’s law being written on our hearts. And what is God’s law? Well God’s law was summed up by Jesus and we repeat it every Sunday and it is that we love God and love our neighbour as ourself – that is the whole law and the prophets.
Christianity then can be seen as a distilling of the core message of Judaism down to the one pure essential of Love and this Love who is named God is internalised. Pentecost is a picture of people being overwhelmed by love.
Love does make you giddy. It consumes all your thoughts, makes you do silly things, makes you happy and can turn your life upside down and you go around with a silly grin on your face. Love for another human being does that to us – how much more giddy would God’s love make us? No wonder people who perceived and experienced and were consumed by this love were derided as being drunk by those who didn’t get it.
It would have been like being the only sober person at a drunken party.
This experience of love is not bound by race or language – love is universal. We can each hear and experience the words of love in a way beyond language. Words can’t really express it but that doesn’t stop us trying and the biblical writers gave it their best shot but the whole point of Pentecost is to forget about all those exterior loci of Love and to feel Love within and then express it in our being, in our ways, in our words yes, but also in our deeds.
If the location of God is now not in a distant temple but now in your heart, knowing that and responding to that love in your words and actions you can bring God to other people, most of whom do not perceive that divine love within. By how you treat and speak to people we can help bring an authentic experience of Love and give it to others. This is what Christians mean by being Christ to one another. We become more fully human.
As Ezekiel put flesh on the dry bones in the valley we are asked to put flesh on the bones of these words in Ezekiel;
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you. I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. “