Happy birthday, Christianity.
Many people, of course, date the true beginning of the Christian religion (as opposed to the person of Jesus, known as the Christ, or the institution, known as the Christian Church) to the remarkable events on the day of Pentecost as recorded in chapter 2 of Acts of the Apostles:
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability…. –Acts 2:1-4ff NRSV
That date is as good as any, I suppose, although an argument can be made that Christianity as a distinct, “non-Jewish” religion can claim as its founder the Apostle Paul. Certainly that makes for an interesting if not fascinating argument, but we don’t need to go there today. After all, there’s enough in Acts 2 to keep us occupied.
The lectionary includes everything through verse 21. There’s a relatively common thought throughout the scholarly community that Acts 2 is best read on a macro rather than micro level. Once you begin to dive into the details of nationalities and languages things don’t add up as perfectly as you’d like. Considering the temper of our own time and culture, you have to chuckle a bit at the comment that those Pentecost folk couldn’t possibly be drunk; after all, it was only 9 o’clock in the morning! Probably not the same kind of disqualifier today as it was back in the day 2,000 years ago.
What is clear from this account is that something amazing and powerful is taking place, and there’s no way all of that–people speaking and hearing foreign languages, not to mention the whole “tongues of fire” aspect–could be attributed to merely human sources.
God was at work, not just with dramatic and strange activity but, in a far larger sense, transforming these few Jewish-only followers of Jesus into what would become a vast cadre of committed disciples taking the “good news of Jesus Christ” to every corner of the world.
We’re so used to spectacular displays, whether in the movies or in real time in the real world, that the events of that day perhaps don’t carry the same punch as it did for the original participants. Yet the Holy Spirit is at work just as much in our world as the Spirit was in theirs.
*From the 2012 ForeWords archive