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New Life in the Spirit
-Fr. Michael Greene

Pentecost is sometimes called ‘the birthday of the Church’—it celebrates the moment when a confused group of disciples and followers could first reasonably be called by the name we still carry today. We are told in the Acts of the Apostles that it was on the Day of Pentecost, when all these folk were gathered together in one place that the Holy Spirit came roaring in like a wildfire and the Church was born. It works almost like a chemical reaction—the followers of Jesus on their own are not a Church, but add Holy Spirit and you’ve got a whole new reality.

The thing that sticks in the mind of most people about this story of the birth of the Church on the day of Pentecost is the account of the miraculous overcoming of the language barriers. The disciples were heard speaking of the great things of God in languages they had never learned. People often refer to this miracle as ‘the gift of tongues,’ but this may be misleading, if not just plain wrong. That phrase is not mentioned here, but in the writings of Paul, and he appears to be talking about something completely different—a gift of prayer that is of little or no use in communicating with people. On the day of Pentecost some-thing happened that broke down the communication barriers and enabled people who otherwise could not have understood to hear and understand.

This miracle tells us something very important about the Church, especially if we look at it in light of some of the Old Testament stories that point to it. The ancient legend of the Tower of Babel (where the word ‘babble’ comes from) tells us about the fragmentation of the human race into isolated tribes that couldn’t speak a common language. They could no longer communicate with one an-other, and so they could no longer challenge the supremacy of God in their pride. Pentecost celebrates the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the followers of Jesus, and the undoing of Babel. People are being reunited as one family in Jesus Christ and ethnic and racial and cultural divisions are no longer going to separate them. This is part of the story of the Birth of the Church, because the Church is a community of reconciliation where we all speak the common language of love for God and one another, and that overcomes other differences.

The message we are given about the birth of the Church is that it is formed and empowered by the Holy Spirit who breaks down every barrier that might shut anyone out of the Kingdom of God. The Church is a community of grace and reconciliation in which everyone has equal right of participation. So, we gather this Pentecost to give our support to those who will be entering that Kingdom for the first time in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, we will watch and give testimony to our own salvation as the Holy Spirit descends once again, washing away sin, and dissolving all the barriers to the eternal life of the Risen Christ as water is poured out on the heads of those who seek a new life in God. It’s no mistake that the first thing we do after the newly baptized is proclaim our common reliance on the Peace of Christ, and share it with one another. At that point, we are not just shaking hands and sharing a kind word, we are binding ourselves to one another in an acknowledgment that the Spirit has begun the work of reconciling us to one another and to God in Jesus Christ. With the coming of the Holy Spirit, new life, in all of its rich abundance, is begun.