Clergy Notes — Pentecost, May 19, 2024

The day that the gift of the promised Holy Spirit is bestowed upon the apostles is called Shavuot in the Hebrew calendar. “Shavuot” is the plural of both “week” and “seven,” emphasizing that the day comes seven weeks (or seven sevens) – fifty days, to be precise – after the beginning of Passover.

Christians observe this event on a day we call Pentecost; a name derived from the Greek word meaning “fiftieth.” Of course, Christians don’t observe Passover, although we use it as a reference point for dating Good Friday and Easter. And so, it is from Easter Sunday that we count our fifty days. In this and in other ways, Pentecost is patterned on the Hebrew festival.

Shavuot commemorates and celebrates the giving of the Torah by God to the Hebrew people, through Moses, at Mount Sinai. In the sacrificial Temple Judaism lived by Jesus and his disciples, Shavuot also marked the end of the grain harvest, which customarily began at Passover. Hence, a key component of the festival at the time of Jesus was the offering of the first fruits of the season, as a sacrifice to God.

Seen in this light, the giving of the Holy Spirit to the apostles at Shavuot acquires context and expands our understanding of the meaning of Pentecost. Christ is the fulfillment of the law – the Torah – whose guidance of the believer into righteousness is made possible through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Paul expands on this understanding of the scope of the Holy Spirit’s activity in his letter to the Romans. He understands the law as inherent to human nature itself, and declares that “when Gentiles, who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves” (Rom 2:14). It is the agency and mediation of the Holy Spirit which permits us access to that “law… written on [our] hearts, to which [our] own conscience also bears witness” (Rom 2:15).

This association with the Holy Spirit is also the reason why the Church typically performs Confirmations, ordinations, and consecrations at this time – all occasions on which the activity of the Spirit is both highlighted and specially beseeched upon the recipient of the sacrament.

As one who was himself confirmed on Pentecost, today has a singular significance for me. It is a reminder to me that the Holy Spirit both led me to the Christian faith and Anglican Church as a young adult; and that the Spirit continues to be a constant companion and guide; leading onto paths that I otherwise would never have had the courage to trod.

Father Neil Fernyhough

Download the Liturgy at Home booklet for Sunday, May 19, 2024.