Harvests and Pentecost Sunday
Acts 2:1-11; Psalm 104:1, 24, 29-30, 31, 34; John 20:19-23
Today, we celebrate the Solemnity of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit in the form of tongues of fire descended upon the Apostles gathered around Mary in prayer. After receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Apostles boldly preached the Good News of Jesus Christ and three thousand people were converted and baptized, the first converts to Christianity (Acts 2:41).
Our Catholic feast of Pentecost has its roots in the Jewish religion, since Pentecost is one of the seven yearly feasts described in the first five books of the bible, the Pentateuch, also known by the Jewish people as the Torah.
We celebrate a number of these Jewish feasts but in a way that has transformed them. For example, three of the Jewish religion feasts that have been transformed in Christianity are two Spring feasts (Passover, and First Fruits) and, and one summer feast (Pentecost).
For the Jewish people, Passover is time to remember and relive the time when God saved the Israelites people from their cruel Egyptian oppressors. One way God saved the Israelites was by sending a destroying angel who killed all the first-born throughout Egypt except for the first-born living in Israelite houses that had doors and lintels marked with the blood of an unblemished lamb.
We believe that Jesus instituted the Eucharist during the Passover meal and by so doing transformed Passover by giving it its fullest meaning since Jesus is the unblemished lamb who was sacrificed for our sake so that we may not die but may live eternally in Jesus forever (CCC1334).
We believe after celebrating the Passover Meal on Holy Thursday, Jesus was crucified on Good Friday and then rose from the dead on the first day of the week, Sunday, the day after the Sabbath, the day also that God created the world. On this first day of the week, the Jewish people were celebrating a festival called First Fruits, a spring celebration when the Jewish people thank God for their first harvest (Leviticus 23:9-14; Deuteronomy 26:1-4). This is the same day that Jesus rose from the dead.
Finally, we come to the summer feast Pentecost, a Jewish feast that carries over into the New Testament in a specific manner. In Hebrew this feast is called Shavuot, which literally means Feast of Weeks in reference to seven weeks after First Fruits, or seven weeks plus one day after Passover, which is where we get the term Pentecost which in Greek means fifty. For the Jewish people, like the feast of First Fruits, Pentecost also was an agricultural feast day. First Fruits celebrates the first harvest of the spring, while Pentecost celebrates the first fruits of the summer harvest. Both are agricultural feasts, and both celebrate first harvests, one in the spring and one in the summer (Leviticus 23:11).
The very day the Jewish people were celebrating First Fruits, or their first spring harvest was the exact day Jesus rose from the dead. As St. Paul writes, “Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead (1 Corinthians 15:20-21 RSVCE).”
Pentecost/Shavuot/Feast of Weeks, which is celebrated fifty days later celebrates another harvest, the first summer harvest. Similarly, on this day we celebrate the harvests of eternal life due to the first shoot who is Jesus who broke through the surface of this world by rising from the dead. In him we are promised that we also will break through the surface of this world to be harvested for eternal life. The first summer Christian harvest was when 3,000 people converted to Christianity after hearing the Apostles preach.
The final Christian harvest will take place when Christ returns to judge the living and the dead. This can be understood as fulfillment of the fall Jewish feast Sukkot, the feast of booths, when the Jewish people thanked God for their final harvest (Ex. 23:16, 34:22, Leviticus 23:39, Deut. 16:13, Judges 9:27). At this time, as prophesied by John the Baptist the wheat will be separated from the chaff (Matthew 3:12). As described by Jesus, he will come “in his glory and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25:31-32 RSVCE)”.
Today, Pentecost Sunday,may we allow the Holy Spirit to transform our hearts, minds and bodies so that we will manifest the fruits of the spirit, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22 RSVCE)”.
Herrad of Landsberg [Public domain], “Medieval western illustration of the Pentecost from the Hortus deliciarum of Herrad of Landsberg(12th century),” https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hortus_Deliciarum,_Pfingsten_und_die_Aussendung_des_Heiligen_Geistes_auf_die_Apostel.JPG.
Brant Pitre, Genesis and the Books of Moses: Unlocking the Mysteries of the Pentateuch,MP 3, 20. Pitre cites Exodus 23:16, Leviticus 23:15-22, Numbers 28:26-31, and Deuteronomy16:9-12.