Pentecost: Old Law, New Covenant

The Reverend Antonio Garcia Fuente

The Liturgy today gives us two readings where the Holy Spirit descends over the Apostles, the first one from Acts (2:1-21), the second one from the Gospel of John (20:19-23). They are two different events that strongly relate to each other.

The first one, from the book of Acts, happens during the feast of Pentecost. First century Jews, such as the Apostles, would not have missed an all important detail about this date: Pentecost. If Easter is the feast that celebrates the epic event when Israel crosses the Red Sea being freed from Pharaoh (cf. Ex 14), Pentecost is the feast that celebrates the moment in which God gives the law to Moses in the Mount of Sinai (cf. Ex 19ff), the law of the old covenant. Pentecost was the day in which the Apostles received the fullness of the new law, the new covenant.

Moses saw a fire in front of him, from which he could hear God speak to him (cf. Ex 3:2); the Apostles received upon them the fire tongues (cf. Acts 2:3), the very Spirit of God that spoke through them (cf. Acts 2:11).

Moses was then sent to consecrate the people by washing their clothes and everything they had as a sign of new beginnings (cf. Acts 19:9-25); the Apostles were sent to consecrate the people by the forgiveness of all their sins and the preaching of the Gospel (cf. John 20:23), a perfect new beginning.

Moses was then given the Ten Commandments as a constitutional foundation for the people (cf. Ex 20:1-21), the Apostles were given that same Holy Spirit to be passed on to the people (cf. John 20:22), a Spirit which we have received and constitutes us into the People of God.

There is a strong correlation between the law and the community, between what binds us together, and our identity as a community. Does the law, the bonds, make the community or is it the community that makes the law?

The question is a bit like the question of which came first, the chicken or the egg? Evolution theory tells us that neither the chicken nor the egg were first, but that they developed and evolved together. Social theory paints a similar picture of nations, law, identity and community also evolving together. The General Election that will be held next Thursday comes down to a simple question: what proposals for future law and policy do you think are the best for the future of our community, in this case, our nation. We all know that, as simple as the question might sound, the answer is never that easy…

Building community is never easy. Sometimes we have disparity of views, disparity of priorities, disparity of interests… that make it difficult to build community, even if we all agree to put at heart the common good. The giving of the Holy Spirit is God’s promise to his people of two things: firstly that God will bestow abundantly gifts to build the common good, the community, the nation; secondly that the Holy Spirit will remain with us, renewing us, renewing the gifts in us, renewing our hopes, building us and binding us together for the best.

The prophet Isaiah promised that the Holy Spirit would bring seven gifts:

The gift of Wisdom helps us recognize the importance of others, their values, their gifts, their place in the community for the common good.

• The gift of Understanding is the ability to comprehend the meaning of God’s message, what God is calling us to do in our community, that good thing that we (individually) can do for the common good.

• The gift of Knowledge is the ability to think about and explore the things that surround us understanding what the goal is that they were created for, and being able to put them to good use.

• The gift of Counsel is the ability to help others become the best they can be, that whom God calls them to be.

• The gift of Fortitude is the courage to do what one knows is right, even if it feels difficult to stand up for what is right.

• The gift of Piety helps us pray to God in true devotion, in church but in serving him in the world too.

• The gift of Fear of the Lord is the feeling of amazement before God, who is all-present, to be able to discover the face of God in others, even those we disagree with.

In Scripture the number seven has a metaphorical status - it represents plenitude. These gifts are seven because they represent the countless plenitude of gifts of the Spirit given to us to build the common good, each one of us in our daily roles in the community.

These gifts have been poured onto us through Baptism, renewed in our Confirmation and indeed every Sunday when we call upon God to send the Spirit over the gifts of Bread and Wine and over the people here gathered, and then we receive these gifts, filled with God’s blessing.

As we celebrate today, Pentecost, I pray that the Holy Spirit descends over all of us, full of gifts, and especially over the Lord Mayor of Westminster, that we may work together in all our different roles to build God’s kingdom in the City of Westminster.