When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts 2:1-4, RSV-CE)
In 2005, the movie “Cinderella Man” (Universal Pictures) hit the big screen. It told the story of a former boxer named James J. Braddock (Russell Crowe) and his experience during the Great Depression. He struggled to keep his family fed, working shifts on the docks unloading cargo until his former manager Joe Gould (Paul Giamattie) offered him one last fight against a young, up-and-coming contender for the heavyweight title.
Braddock won a stunning upset over the younger boxer and returned to the ring full-time, against the wishes of his wife, Mae (Renée Zellweger), who feared for her husband’s safety. Braddock, however, was able to overcome all the odds and win the Heavyweight title by defeating world champion Max Baer (Craig Bierko). His determination and courage also won the hearts of every struggling American, who saw his victory as a sign of hope in a time of great uncertainty.
Pentecost was the Church’s “Cinderella Man” story – the hour when ordinary believers on the brink of defeat turned their lives around and brought hope to a weary world by stepping into the arena of human events and taking on the champions of the day. Through the Holy Spirit, these men and women found their purpose and place in the Body of Christ and discovered the timeless power of salvation’s story.
Seeing Pentecost with Eternal Eyes
Pentecost is not just a one-time heavyweight event; it is the ongoing story of salvation that daily breaks in upon our lives and offers us the hope of heaven. It evokes deep spiritual questions that resonate in our hearts, hearts broken by the drama of the cross and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit into our souls moment by moment. These questions challenge us to view our salvation through the lens of eternity.
How are we, as followers of Christ, to understand our place in the Kingdom and our connection to the power that turned death to life and united humanity under a banner of perfect love? How do we live out our calling to bring the hope of the Gospel to a hurting world? How are we to balance our surrender to the sovereignty of the Almighty (Deuteronomy 4:39) with our grace-enabled will to work out our salvation with fear and trembling? (Philippians 2:12-13)
Waiting with Eyes Fixed on Heaven
The first believers were certainly living out an eternal Cinderella story, struggling to understand their place in the drama of salvation and looking to the immensity of the faithful fight that lay ahead. They experienced the doubts and misunderstanding of their own Jewish family who refused to see the bigger picture unfolding before them. But like the hero of the movie, these believers accepted the dangers of the battle and were prepared to go all the way to win the prize God had in store for them in Christ. (Philippians 3:14)
How do we know this? The Word gives us a few clues. The believers had chosen to come together in obedience to the prior command of Christ (Acts 1:4). They, together with Mary, the women, and the brethren of Jesus, were devoting themselves to constant prayer (Acts 1:14). They also recognized the need to choose a replacement for Judas (Acts 1:15-26) in order to prepare for the future ahead. These were brothers and sisters held together by their love for the One who had died to free them from sin. They saw with heaven’s eyes the hope that was ready to rush in upon their lives. They took their fear and transformed it into faith, trusting that their Savior would carry them through the battle to the end.
The Spirit Comes, The Church is Born
Pentecost took fallen human beings and turned them into faithful followers of Christ. The Holy Spirit burst forth upon humanity in a display of Shekinah glory that united past and future into an eternal present. Once more, heaven opened and the Spirit of God spilled forth in power, penetrating deeply into the hearts of the believers and awakening them to eternal life in the Mystical Body of Christ. (Acts 2:1-4)
Like champions driven to overcome all odds for the sake of a higher calling, these men and women rushed into the streets, speaking words of praise and prophecy in the languages of the people and calling all present to believe and be baptized. The great and awesome Day of the Lord was upon them and the people were cut to the heart; yet, they were moved to approach heaven’s throne and find new life in forgiveness and restoration. The strength of the first believers who championed the cause of Christ gave hope to all those seeking a better way. (Acts 2:5-41)
Salvation: A Journey of Past, Present, and Future
Many have claimed that Pentecost was a reversal of the Tower of Babel, as the children of God were brought back together in unity of purpose. In reality, however, what happened was a restoration of the original calling of God to take the light of truth to the ends of the earth. The people of God had been humbled, but now we’re being led as holy exiles into the world to fill it with the message of salvation. Pentecost connected the will of God from eternity past to eternity present, setting forth a wondrous plan of salvation to be lived out day by day in faith.
We continue to experience the power of Pentecost in our Baptism and Confirmation, and in the weekly celebration of the Eucharist. When we participate in the great signs of our initiation we are brought into the Body of Christ, joining with saints past, present, and yet to come. We receive the promises of salvation and the grace that transforms us and moves us forward in our common journey of faith. Each time we come to the table we are transported back to the once-for-all sacrifice of the cross and overwhelmed with thanksgiving as we experience the perfect, transformative love of Christ.
Fighting the Good Fight, Winning the Prize
There is an awesome truth that some Christians may overlook when considering the Pentecost story, and that is how Christ, through grace, equips us to join Him in bringing about the salvation of the world. Those who have been set free in Baptism have been called to belong to the Body of Christ. We are gifted specifically for our part as subjects of the Kingdom. As we live out this calling in the present, we are intimately connected to the eternal and ever-unfolding plan of salvation that will find its ultimate fulfillment when Jesus comes again.
God challenges us to climb into the ring, take on the enemies of the cross, and pour ourselves into the fight until the victory is won. These daily battles allow the Church to shape us, even as we help to shape the Church to which we belong. Our salvation is an event that begins at Baptism, continues through our Christian living, and culminates when we are united once more with Christ at the resurrection. If we see Pentecost through this eternal perspective, we will choose to yield our lives more and more to the One who has graced us to see the battle through to the end.
Second Chances, Heavenly Rewards
Just like James J. Braddock was given a second chance on life, we have been given a fresh start through the power of Pentecost. As the Church was born through the coming of the Holy Spirit, so too are we born anew day by precious day, as we take the grace we have been given and pour it out upon the world with courage, determination, and faithfulness.
Let us remember what it means to live out our salvation by looking to the first believers:
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And fear came upon every soul; and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common; and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47, RSV-CE)
Having an eternal perspective on Pentecost is about surrendering in reverence to the Almighty. It calls us to work wonders of love and transformation in His name and share our goods and our lives with others. It allows us to celebrate the Eucharist with joy and join in fellowship as together we witness the growth of our family of faith day by day. It transforms us into instruments of perfect praise as we walk the road of salvation with our brothers and sisters. And it means never giving up fighting the good fight of faith until the battle is won!