YOU ARE A delegate to an international conference being held in Beijing. You and a couple of dozen others have just been escorted from your hotel to the conference centre and are waiting outside. As well as yourself there are assorted Europeans, two or three from South America, a handful from assorted parts of Africa, an Indonesian, an Indian and a couple of Koreans.
Suddenly you are approached by a group of peasants from Xinjiang province extolling the virtues of a new way of life and exhorting you to change your ways in your own language.
Not surprisingly your instant reaction is to listen. After all you are hearing your own language which the brain will register as normal. After a second or two, or a bit longer for those who weren’t paying attention, you move on to “what the heck is going on here? These guys are Chinese peasants and here they are speaking perfect English (or Spanish, or Indonesian)?”
And inevitably there are a couple of cynics among you whose reaction is “bit early in the day, isn’t it?” but that is mainly to cover up their shock because an excess of firewater at 9 o’clock in the morning is not likely to make you suddenly fluent in a language you have probably never heard before. Quite the opposite, in fact.
We know this story inside-out and probably back-to-front as well. We should do because we hear it every Pentecost Sunday. And we are probably so used to it that we fail completely to grasp just how devastating it must have been to those who experienced it, both the speakers and the listeners.
Remember that on the morning of Our Lord’s Resurrection the apostles had gathered in a room where “the doors were closed … for fear of the Jews”. Some traditions have it that this was the same room in which they had three days before celebrated Passover. In any event it was somewhere, owned by a sympathiser maybe, where they felt safe. It was to this room (probably) that they returned after Our Lord’s Ascension to await the coming of the Advocate, Paraclete, Holy Spirit in whatever form this being manifested itself.
They would be nervous yet again, as they had been after Jesus’ death and again after his Ascension. Even if He hadn’t made it clear they would almost certainly have realised that this second departure was final — at least in the form in which they had known Him. And they had been left with the awesome task of taking His teaching to the whole world and having the power to forgive sins or not to forgive them. (One wonders which is the heavier burden; to forgive someone or to harden your heart and say you are unable to forgive.)
But they still trusted in Jesus and so they waited, as He had asked them to, until the day which in Jewish tradition was the day for offering the first fruits.
“And they were filled with the Holy Spirit”. And the Church has never looked back!