Sunday, June 12, 2011

Pentecost in the Cenacle

I celebrated Pentecost in the Holy Land seven years ago. I posted this reflection 5 years ago.


Two years ago today, I sat in the upper room, the Cenacle in Old Jerusalem (pictured above), and prayed my evening hour. I chose to be there specifically because of the day: Pentecost. To say prayers in the Cenacle on Pentecost was, to me, like celebrating a birthday with the whole Church in the place where the Church came to be. To the left and right in the image, you can see stair railings. The one to the left led to an "upper" upper room. On that day, it was open. I was told that the room had not been opened in years. I was blessed to be able to go in and see the additional rooms. It looked out over the courtyard above the traditional Tomb of David (which was actually an early Judeo-Christian synagogue).*

The night before, I had shared a Shabbat meal with a friend and coworker and her family in Rehovot. That evening meal, celebrated after evening prayers in the local synagogue, underscored to me just how much we shared in our heritage with Judaism. I think of all four trips to Israel that I have made, this one was the most special to me because of these small graces.

Pentecost is relevant to both Christians and Jews. For Christians, of course, it is the 50th day (roughly speaking) after Easter and the day on which we commemorate the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles in the upper room (Acts 2). It is rightly called in the Latin Church, for this reason, the birthday of the Church.**

For Jews, Pentecost (which is Shavuot) is a harvest festival, as commonly noted. The meaning is "Festival of Weeks" (Chag ha-Shavuo't) and occurs seven weeks after Passover. However, aside from the connection with harvest, it marks another important event: the day G-d*** gave the Torah to the People of Israel at Mount Sinai. What does it signify, then, that Christians celebrate this feast on the same day that commemorates the giving of the Law to the people of Israel?

From Deuteronomy 6:4–6 come the words of the Shema, which Christ echoes in Matthew22:37: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart[.]" Of course, Deuteronomy, the second Law, is what was given to the People of Israel after the original Mosaic covenant was made, and some 430 years after the Abrahamic covenant was made (as Paul notes in Galatians 3:17).

Yet, the prophets still comment on the hard-heartedness of the People of Israel. In Jeremiah 31:33, the prophet says of the people in exile, "I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts." This is the day when the Lord will make a new covenant with them (Jer. 31:31). But how do you write upon a hard heart? In Ezekiel 36:26–27, we get our answer: "A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances."

For Christians, the Feast of Pentecost celebrates the day on which the Law of Freedom was written on the hearts of the faithful by the Holy Spirit. From that day on, the Apostles preached a New Covenant because the Paraclete promised by Christ had come to teach them all things and to dwell in them (John 14:16, 26).

*The original building of the Cenacle was replaced long ago, so the room itself is not the exact same as the upper room of the gospels and Acts. Yet, it is believed to be on the same location.

**The Orthodox Churches consider the Church to be existent before the creation of the world so do not consider Pentecost the birthday of the Church.

***Because I've included the Jewish terms here, I use this convention out of respect for any of our Jewish brethren that happen to come upon this page. See this article for details.
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