THEME: TONGUES OF FIRE
READINGS: Acts 2:1-11/ 1 Corinthians 12:3-7, 12-13/ John 20: 19-23
Solemnity of Pentecost
Pentecost was a major Jewish festival long before it became a Christian feast. All adult male Jews living within 30km radius of Jerusalem were obliged to participate in the festival. In addition, many Jews and converts to Judaism from all over the world went on a pilgrimage to attend the festival. Thus, the Acts of the Apostles attests that on that faithful day, which became the first Christian Pentecost: ‘Now, there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem…. Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs’ (Acts 2:5, 9-11).
OUTDOORING THE CHURCH
Beloved, the Church was born in the life, ministry, suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It then had to be outdoored. The timing and circumstance of its outdooring was very crucial. Our God, being the most strategic One, wisely chose the Pentecost festival, which had such great attendance and great network of people, to outdoor the Church with the spectacular outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-12).
By this strategic choice of God, as many as three thousand people would become Christians on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:41). Many of these converts would become a great network to spread the good news of salvation to various parts of the world.
Among the manifestations on that Pentecost day, there was the ‘tongues of fire’, the medium by which the Holy Spirit filled the disciples (Acts 2:3-4). The rest of this homily focuses on the significance of the tongues of fire.
We will consider:
- The presence of the Holy Spirit as fire
- The significance of the appearance of the Holy Spirit as tongues
- Tongues of fire
THE PRESENCE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT AS FIRE
Water, we know, has no shape or form but takes the shape of its container. Similarly, the Holy Spirit, the Living Water (John 4:10-15; 7:37-39), has no physical form, but manifests His presence to us in various forms. On the day of the baptism of our Lord, the Holy Spirit took the form of a dove (John 1:32). On the day of Pentecost, He appeared as fire (Acts 2:3). What is the significance of this? There are several lessons from this, but I wish to limit myself to three of them.
Firstly, fire is used to purify metals (e.g. gold). Similarly, the Holy Spirit purifies us. He applies the precious blood of Jesus to purify us – to cleanse us of our sins. To purify us, He first convicts us of our sins (John 16:8). That is, He pricks our conscience and makes us aware of our sins, feel guilty about them and then readily confess them. Thus, on Pentecost day, the Holy Spirit convicted thousands of people who were listening to the sermon of Peter. The burning of the spiritual fire in the hearts of the people made them ask the Apostles how they could be saved: ‘Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?”’ (Acts 2:37). Peter then admonished them: ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 2:38).
Beloved, like the Pentecost day converts, may we feel in our hearts the merciful and yet purifying heat of the fire of the Holy Spirit anytime we sin. With such spiritual burning sensation, let us not waste any time to seek God’s forgiveness; when we confess may He instantly cleanse us of our sins. Amen!
We have elaborated on the fact that the presence of the Holy Spirit as fire signifies His purifying work. The second lesson is derived from the fact that fire destroys things. Similarly, the Holy Spirit destroys things. However, being holy fire, being the fire of ‘Love Divine’, He does not destroy good things. The holy fire destroys only evil. Thus, we read in Acts 13:6-12, how Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, defeated the evil of Elymas the magician. Similarly, beloved, may the fire of the Holy Spirit destroy any evil that may approach us. Amen!
Thirdly, fire is powerful. This is evident in its ability to destroy things. Fire, therefore, signifies the power of the Holy Spirit. Thus, on the day of Ascension, Jesus instructed His apostles to remain in Jerusalem until they were empowered by the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8). Ten days thereafter, they were empowered by the Holy Spirit to boldly witness to Jesus as risen from the dead and the Saviour of the world.
Similarly, beloved, may the fire-power of the Holy Spirit make us all great witnesses or ambassadors of Jesus Christ. Amen!
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE APPEARANCE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT AS TONGUES
Human tongue signifies speech. Therefore, the appearance of the Holy Spirit in the form of tongues means that He is the One who enables us to proclaim the good news. Thus, in our Creed, we affirm that the Holy Spirit ‘has spoken through the prophets’. May He continue to touch our tongues and speak through us. Amen!
TONGUES OF FIRE
On Pentecost day, the Holy Spirit appeared not merely as tongues but specifically as ‘tongues of fire’. We know that our tongues cannot remain silent when touched by something hot. When, for instance, a very hot food touches our tongue, we cannot but speak even if we do not understand such heat-on-tongue induced utterances. Similarly, the tongues of fire of the Holy Spirit signify His spiritual burning of the timid and silent tongues of the Apostles. Peter, who became timid from the moment of the arrest of Jesus, became not only courageous to stand before thousands of people but also eloquent (Acts 2:14-41; cf. Acts 4:31).
Beloved, may the spiritual fire of the Holy Spirit set our tongues on fire so that we eloquently proclaim the good news of salvation. Amen!
Beloved let me sum up. On this Pentecost day and beyond,
- May fire of the Holy Spirit purify us, destroy any evil that approaches us and empower us to be credible witnesses of Christ
- May the Holy Spirit who appeared as tongues touch our tongues.
- May the spiritual fire of the Holy Spirit set our tongues on fire so that we eloquently proclaim the good news of salvation. Amen!
By Very Rev. Fr. John Louis