Each year the Church celebrates 50 days of Easter, culminating at the feast of Pentecost. Pentecost marks the occasion of God’s sending the Holy Spirit upon Jesus’ disciples after his resurrection. Before Pentecost, the disciples were unsure of what they were to do next, and spent most of their time in hiding. After Pentecost, and the gift of the Holy Spirit, they understood their mission to spread the Good News of Jesus, and they had the courage to come out of hiding and speak openly about who Jesus was, and what he had accomplished by his dying and rising.
Because Pentecost brought the disciples this clarity of mission, it is regarded as the founding feast of the Christian Church. Before Pentecost, the disciples of Jesus are tentative and disorganized. After Pentecost, they are a people with a mission, who perceive themselves as spiritually and sacramentally connected to the risen Christ. You can read the story of the Church’s first days in the Acts of the Apostles.
Today, celebrations of Pentecost still center on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the power of those gifts to both draw people together, and to send them forth to spread the word. For those of you who are fond of making lists, those gifts of the Holy Spirit are: Wisdom, Knowledge, Understanding, Fortitude, Good Counsel, Piety, and Fear of the Lord.
Of course, one of the remarkable elements of the story of the first Pentecost was the miracle of understanding, in which everyone in the diverse crowd in Jerusalem hears the disciples speaking in the listeners’ own language. This unique event is sometimes commemorated at masses for Pentecost Sunday by having people read sections of the story in a variety of different languages represented in the congregation. It’s a reminder that although we’ve heard the story before, we have inherited the mission of those first disciples.