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 2.1-4)
It was the fiftieth day and the Passover was long past and they were into another celebration – Pentecost. But they were still in that same room. For the last ten days life had been different. For forty days Jesus had been around; he was with them, they felt close to him. Then, when they came back from the Mount of Olives after his ascension, they came back to this room and stayed together in prayer. But they felt empty. Something was lacking, Jesus was lacking. They had each other but somehow that wasn’t enough.
The Sabbath was over, a new day had begun, the first day of the week and every first day they remembered that first day when life was changed and Mary came back to the room to say that Jesus was alive, that day when Jesus had appeared amongst them. It was the first day yet again, a day of new beginnings, a day of new creation.
And just as they began this new day, God explodes into their lives. The windows were blown open and the force of it took their breath away. The room was filled with flame, life-giving flame, and they were each illuminated by it. Wind and flame, wind and flame – God exploding into their lives – tongues of fire, tongues of speech.
The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one discharge from sin and error.
T S Eliot in his poem ‘Little Gidding’ highlights for us just how uncomfortable this experience was for them and for us. God disturbs them in the locked space that had become their refuge, had become their home. He needed them to get out of the room and into the rest of the world and only wind and flame would do it. The womb must be a comfortable place for the unborn child but birth is a messy, painful, explosive moment as the child emerges into a bright, cold, harsh, demanding world and the first thing that we want to hear is a cry, the lungs bellowing after release.
This is the birth of the church. Forced from the womb-like comfort of the Upper Room the apostles are blown out into the world and their voice sounds in a new way like the voice of the new born child. Their tongues are loosed and they speak, they cry, they are born and there is no going back.
Bring me to birth, Lord;
bring your church to new birth, Lord.
Where we are content with the comfort of the familiar
challenge us with the new
and with wind and flame
send us into your world
to cry with a new voice
and to tell the world
the Good News of Jesus.