I recently visited Berlin for the first time and was struck by the fact that the Berlin Wall, which divided the city for so many years, has now become a tourist attraction. In fact, the longest remaining section has been purposefully covered with Graffiti and named the East Side Gallery. Walls and barriers erected to divide communities will eventually be broken through and become tourist curiosities. I have visited the walls that divide Israel from Palestine and the barrier which divides North and South Korea – these, too, will one day become tourist curiosities and will be looked upon as follies.
At Pentecost, the Church celebrates two acts of God, the Holy Spirit. The first is that God is able to break through walls and barriers which divide communities. The second is that the followers of Jesus Christ will be strengthened, empowered and emboldened to do this on God’s behalf. Let’s consider these in more detail.
Firstly, on the day of Pentecost, we see the followers of Jesus Christ, acting on God’s behalf, breaking through walls and barriers. Thousands of Jewish people from around the Roman Empire, speaking many languages, were gathered in Jerusalem at the time. Yet language was not a barrier as we hear that they all knew what Jesus’ followers (the apostles) were talking about. But this was not the only barrier that was broken through. The apostles broke through the belief that the good news of liberation and salvation embodied in the person of Jesus was not the sole possession of a chosen few, but was available to all who wanted to receive it. Nobody was to be excluded. While he walked the streets of Palestine, Jesus sought out people who had been edged out of society and had been looked down upon for who they were and what they had done: they all encountered the Good News. On the Day of Pentecost, the apostles were doing the same to an even wider group of people.
Secondly, the good news of Jesus was not simply proclaimed, but it was embodied in the words and actions of the apostles. It was not only the words that they spoke but the personal conviction with which they spoke them which moved the hearts of their listeners. On the day of Pentecost, we celebrate the Holy Spirit coming upon the followers of Jesus and when they went out to speak to the crowds, we discover that the apostles were not simply passing on somebody else’s message, but they were now given the strength, ability and courage to speak about the faith which they had taken to heart .The apostles were not simply telling the crowds about Jesus, but they were living what they believed, sharing their experience of what he was doing in their lives and this gave power and authenticity to their words.
God calls his followers to break through walls and barriers which divide communities. Jesus made it clear in his ministry that nobody who wanted to be his follower should be excluded. Pentecost is an opportunity for Christians to consider the walls and barriers within and around Church, community and world, and ask whether they enable all people to flourish or whether they divide communities. Are any of them curiosities or follies? Which of them need to be challenged, broken through or even dismantled?
Pentecost also reminds the followers of Jesus Christ that when they are breaking through the walls and barriers that divide and prevent their communities from flourishing – and this can be a demanding and painful thing to do – that they will be strengthened, empowered and emboldened by God,the Holy Spirit.