Saturday, June 11, 2011

Lectionary Notes

We apologize for the missing notes recently, and can only plead that they weren't very good. So here we are again.

12 JUNE 2011

The name “Pentecost” is from the Greek word meaning ‘fiftieth’ and was applied in translation of the Hebrew to the feat of Weeks which fell on the fiftieth day after Passover.

The Collect is apparently new, and if so is one of the happier compositions in the BAS, managing to capture most of the themes of Pentecost in one sentence.

The Readings
Numbers 11.24–30
In the wilderness after their deliverance from Egypt and the giving of the law at Sinai, some of the people of Israel have been complaining to Moses about their misfortunes (11.1), and even though the Lord’s anger is kindled, they go on complaining and asking fro the food they enjoyed in Egypt (11.4-6): manna was God-given, nutritious and versatile, but it gets monotonous. The discontent grows until Moses himself complains about the people God has given him to look after “as a nurse carries a sucking child”, v. 12). He cannot carry on alone, better to die than continue in this misery (v. 14-15).
God tells him to gather seventy of the elders and bring them out to the tent of meeting, which was outside the camp (see Exodus 33.7), where God will put on them some of the spirit that is on Moses so that they can share his burden. (vv. 16-17). Further God tells Moses to promise meat to the people, so much that they will be sick of it (18-23). It is at this point that our reading begins.
25 the cloud symbolizes the presence of the Lord. they prophesied: what is to be understood here is not the formal, poetic prophesy we read in a book such as Isaiah, but an ecstatic sort of prophecy such as was known all over the ancient world, including trances, speaking in tongues and the like; such behaviour was considered inspired by the gods. But they did not do so again: the Hebrew can apparently also mean nor did they cease afterwards. The Latin Vulgate takes it in this sense (nec ultra cessaverunt) “Quite a difference!” [RCL].
26 Two men, Eldad and Medad, who had been numbered among the seventy but stayed in the camp received the spirit of prophecy anyway.
27. As soon as a young man sees them prophesying, he has to go an tell on them.
28. Joshua seeks to have them stopped, because they have not received authority, but [29] Moses asks Joshua whether he thinks the activities of other prophets will diminish his charisma, implying that their prophecy is genuine. The prayer, Would that all the Lord's people were prophets, is wonderfully fulfilled on the day of Pentecost (see Acts 2)
Psalm 104.25–35, 37
Psalm 104 is a hymn to God as creator. In this final section he psalmist expresses wonder and thanksgiving for the variety of creatures and God’s care for them. The refrain, Send forth your Spirit, O Lord, and renew the face of the earth, makes clear the reason that this selection has been chosen for Pentecost.

Acts 2.1–21
This reading narrates the events which we celebrate today.
1. Pentecost: The Feast of Weeks [Hebrew, Shavuot, see Exodus 34:22, Deuteronomy 16:10], celebrating the wheat harvest, was fifty days after the Feast of Unleavened Bread and Passover; hence the name Pentecost. From the second century AD the giving of the law to Moses was also celebrated as part of this feast. Leviticus 23:15-21 commands how this festival was to be celebrated. There would have been many pilgrims on the city, for the Feat of Weeks fell at a season of the year when travel by sea was safest, and was more largely attended than any of the other Feasts. There would have been many pilgrims on the city at this time than any of the other Feasts, for it was a season of the year when travel by sea was safest. They were all together: All may mean the Apostles, who are mentioned as appearing before the people in 2:14, but might also refer to the whole group of 150 disciples mentioned in 1:15. In one place: The traditional interpretation is that the Descent of the Holy Spirit took place in the Upper Room, or Cenacle, the place mentioned in 1.13. However, verse 2 refers to a ‘house’ and verse 5 suggests that there is space enough for a large crowd around it. It has been suggested that the room was one in the precincts of the Temple, where it was natural for such a crowd as is mentioned to be gathered at this feast. In the Greek version of Jeremiah 35.4 the word ‘house’ is in fact used for chambers in the Temple precincts.
2-3. Space does not allow us to discuss the amazing events in any detail. Perhaps we should note that the language used is figurative. There was a sound. It was not wind, but a sound as of a mighty wind. Something appeared. it was not fire , but like as of fire. It is not even clear just what ‘divided tongues’ should mean. But wind—remember this is the same word as ‘spirit’—and fire, were important in the Gospel (see Matt. 3.11, John 3.8) and in the Hebrew Scriptures.
4. Realizing that the promise had been fulfilled, they burst under one uncontrollable impulse into praise of God ! The other tongues here might seem to be ecstatic utterance, like the ‘prophesying’ in the first reading and like the gift of tongues discussed in 1 Corinthians 14:1-33. But the later events suggest something else.
5. At the sound like wind and the noise of praise crowd gathers. Note that these were all Jews: while the Gospel was later to be proclaimed throughout the whole world, it is the fulfilment of God’s promises to Israel that is the focus on this day.
7-11. It is not easy to state with certainty just what this miracle was; one should consult a good commentary on Acts for the variety of interpretations. Furneaux comments on this list of nations that it “presents numerous difficulties. It is made on no discoverable principle as regards either the order of enumeration or the inclusions and omissions. It is quite different in style from Luke’s work, and must be derived from some early authority. The strange inclusion of Judaea may be due to an error in the MSS., since Tertullian quotes the passage as Armenia and Cappadocia ; but the omission of such countries as Syria, Cilicia, and Cyprus, where Jews were numerous, is inexplicable. It is significant that, whereas the passage is adduced as evidence that the disciples at Pentecost spoke in foreign languages, it really lends no support whatever to that theory. It is a list of countries, not of languages ; and the Jews from those countries did not all speak different languages, but would all have understood Greek : would, indeed, have under stood Greek better than the native language of the country in which they lived.”
Nothing in the account of Peter’s speech (2.14-36 suggests that that was understood miraculously.
All that said, one essential meaning of the Pentecost event has become clear as the Gospel has been proclaimed throughout the world: the message of the Church overcomes the differences of language and all people can hear in their own tongues the great things of God in Jesus Christ. In this, according to many ancient interpreters, the curse of Babel has been undone (see Genesis 11.1-9).
I have been trying without much success to find a good map on-line to illustrate verses 9-11; so far the best is to be seen at
12-13. The miracle cannot be explained and this uncertainty prepares the Jews for Peter’s speech. So does the mocking suggestion that what was strange in this matter could be explained by too copious a use of wine at the opening of the festival.
14-21. This is the opening section of Peter’s address (14-36).
15. Nine o’clock, literally, ‘the third hour’.
16. The Prophet Joel: St Peter cites Joel 2:28-32. The text differs from the text of Joel. Acts has “In the last days” in place of afterwards (Joel 2.28). In Acts the prophecy more clearly refers to the end-time. It adds “they shall prophesy” in verse. 18. In verse 30 Acts has added “above”, “below” and “signs”.
Furneaux: “This is the earliest Christian apology, and its grand characteristic is power. Ye shall receive power, when the Holy Spirit hath come upon you, had been Christ s promise, and there is no delay in the fulfilment. Who can read the speech and not feel that, if the gift of Tongues was proof that the Spirit had come, the greater proof was in Peter’s words ? His life hitherto had shown no little inconsistency, not to say cowardice. Only seven weeks before he had disowned his Lord. But he had spent nine days in prayer and had received the Spirit, and we recall the Master’s words, It is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father that speaketh in you (Matt. 10.20).”

The Holy Gospel according to St John (20.19–31)
This passage was read on the Second Sunday of Easter (May 1st 2011); it narrates the appearance of Jesus to his disciples on the evening of the first Easter, apparently the same event that is told in Luke 24:36ff. It is read today because it tells that Jesus breathed on the disciples and said Receive the Holy Spirit (v. 22), giving them his mission and the authority to forgive sins. Like the Pentecost event, this is a fulfilment of promise: “The Lord now fulfils the promise of the Baptist concerning him (1.33); He baptises His disciples, not in water which washes away stains, but in holy spirit—the energy of a holy life in obedience to God” [Temple].
From very early times commentators have struggled with the relation of this event to the coming of the Spirit in Acts 2. C. B. Moss wrote: “The special work of the Holy Ghost in the order of grace began at Pentecost (Acts 2:1). We find a foreshadowing of it in St. John 20:22.” It is interesting to note that here the words are literally not “receive the Holy Spirit” but “receive holy spirit” (though we should not make too much of capital letters: they did not exist at the time the Gospels were written); Temple commented: “What is bestowed is not the Divine Person Himself but the power and energy of which He is the source.”
One thing we ought to take from this Gospel reading today is the close link between the gift of the Spirit—or of the Spirit’s energy—and the sending of the disciples into the world to continue Christ’s work of reconciliation. That is the purpose for which we are called and empowered by the Spirit.
Another reason to read this passage today is that we remember that ecstatic and charismatic gifts such as we hear of in the readings from Numbers and Acts are not the only sign of the Spirit’s work. The turning of hearts to God, which may be a quiet and gentle process, is also the work of renewal by God’s Spirit.
But that is all the time we have for writing notes this week.

June 2011

13 c Feria
14 d Feria
15 e Feria
16 f Commemoration of Joseph Butler, Bishop of Durham, 175217 g Feria
18 A Memorial of Bernard Mizeki, Catechist in Rhodesia, Martyr, 1896: Eve of Trinity Sunday


Felicity Pickup said...

Thank you for the work you put into this.

William Craig said...

You're welcome!