A couple of years ago I took a “personality” test on-line that attempts to highlight the user’s natural gifts. Of the top five traits that the test revealed, the number one for me was my sense of connectedness—that all things are linked and have meaning together. It’s no surprise, then, that when I think of Pentecost, I think of unity.
Luke’s account in the Book of Acts stands in contrast to the story of Babel we find in Genesis (11.1-9). There, people are trying lay claim to something they were never intended to do or be. They overextend themselves, assuming that they have all the answers, that they are fully independent, and that they themselves are gods. It’s a disaster. And it results in confusion, discord, and divergence.
The Pentecost story represents a reversal of course from the dysfunction of Babel. People from all over the known world had come together to commemorate the giving of Torah on Sinai—God’s revelation to the people (this is what Pentecost celebrates in Judaism). But when they gathered, they received a new revelation, one that transcended their respective differences, but one that was nevertheless communicated in their own cultural context by the power of the Spirit. Just like at Sinai, the birth of the Church was accompanied by signs of God’s presence, but this time they came as understanding, harmony, and unity.
This connectedness is the same outcome that Jesus prays for in chapter 17 of John’s Gospel, a vision of oneness of the people situated in the fullness of divine love. But this divine unity doesn’t mean uniformity; Luke makes this clear as the people retain their ethnic uniqueness throughout. Instead, God’s unity means we have a common purpose and goal—recognition of Christ as Lord.
As we celebrate the birth of the Church this weekend, let’s be mindful of what it means to live out this truth. Let’s see and experience our connectedness in Christ. Like the crowds that Peter witnessed to, we retain our unique strengths, but we don’t have to have all the answers. Instead, let’s live what one writer calls an “inter-independence,” as fully differentiated persons freely sharing our gifts and talents with one another to uplift the Body and maintain its overall health. Let’s manifest an abiding presence with each other, valuing diverse opinions and including those voices in our journey together. And in the end, let’s understand that we are perfected only in Christ.
Happy Birthday to the Church; through the Spirit of God that connects us, may she have many more!