Pentecost A

Illuminations on the Lectionary readings for May 28, 2023 (Pentecost A)

First Reading (or alternate Second Reading): Acts 2:1-21

Fifty days after the first Easter and a week or so after the apostles watched in amazement as the resurrected Jesus was taken up into the clouds, they have gathered to celebrate Shavuot, the Jewish spring harvest festival also known as Pentecost.


Pentecost (ca. 1305). Fresco by Giotto di Bondone (c.1267-1337), Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, Italy.

Suddenly, as we hear in this first reading from Acts, the Holy Spirit arrives like a violent wind and rests on each of them as a tongue of fire! All at once, Jesus’s promise at the Ascension is fulfilled: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses … to the ends of the earth.” The apostles start shouting the Good News in many languages, prompting a startled crowd to wonder if they are drunk. Not so, says Peter. Quoting the Prophet Joel, he assures the crowd that the Spirit will be poured out for all.

First Reading (alternate): Numbers 11:24-30

Seven weeks after Easter we celebrate Pentecost, the third major church holiday of the year. On Christmas we remembered the birth of Jesus. On Easter we recalled Jesus’ death and resurrection. Pentecost completes the circle with God’s gift of the Holy Spirit, inspiring us to take the Gospel out to the world in Jesus’s name. Today’s first reading tells of God’s spirit empowering Moses and his followers. The spirit came to Eldad and Medad, two of Moses’s elders who weren’t there. That didn’t seem fair to Moses’ assistant, Joshua, but Moses reassured him: “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!”

Psalm: Psalm 104:25-35

This psalm of praise exults in all the works of God’s creation, including the Psalmist’s recognition that God made some creations, like Leviathan, the giant whale, just for fun: “for the sport of it.” Perhaps the message for Pentecost in this passage from Psalm 104, though, comes in these prophetic words in Verse 31: “You send forth your Spirit, and they are created; and so you renew the face of the earth.” Since the first words of Scripture when God’s spirit breath blew over the face of the waters like a mighty wind and all creation came to be, God’s mighty work of creative world-building continues all around us.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13

Through the Spirit we all are all as one in baptism, Paul tells the Christian community of Corinth in this much loved passage. Nationality, economic status, gender, enslaved or free: None of these things matter, Paul says. Just as the body is made up of different parts that serve different functions, we each bring our individual gifts as we work together, guided by the Spirit, for the common good. Through it all, Paul assures us, we are all moved by the Spirit as members of the body of Christ.

Gospel: John 20:19-23

If this Gospel passage seems familiar, there’s a good reason: We hear it twice in Eastertide, on the first Sunday after Easter and again on Pentecost Sunday. We return to the locked room where the disciples are hiding in fear on the first Easter. The grieving group was startled when Mary Magdalene ran back to tell them that she met a man in white at the empty tomb. She told them, “I have seen the Lord!” Nevertheless, they don’t know what to believe. And then Jesus suddenly appears among them, mysteriously entering the locked room. In John’s Gospel, the Holy Spirit comes to the apostles not at Pentecost but on the first Easter: Jesus shows them his wounds, wishes them peace, and then breathes on them, empowering them with the Holy Spirit and sending them out into the world.

Gospel (alternate): John 7:37-39

Pentecost is one of the feast days designated as especially appropriate for baptism. Indeed, its alternative name, “Whitsunday,” or “White Sunday,” alludes to the white garments worn by those being baptized. As we gather in Christian community and welcome new members into Christ’s Body in the church, we remember that through baptism we are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever. Through the living water of baptism our hearts join in pouring out the good news of the Gospel to all the world’s nations.

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