Deuteronomy records how the Israelites gradually took possession of the promised Land. It is a story of practical moves (avoiding conflict and actual military engagement). All these nations and people, the one time inhabitants of the land, has long disappeared in the sand(storms) of history. ‘Rise ye up, take your journey, and pass over the river Arnon: behold, I have given into thine hand Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon, and his land: begin to possess it, and contend with him in battle.’ (Deuteronomy 2,24) These individual lives and cultures became nameless victims, forever doomed to oblivion.
It is not quite the case. In the miracle of the tongues at Pentecost, this forgotten story burst into surface. ‘And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where thy were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.’ It is our privilege as Christians to see that this miracle has to do not only with the ‘above’ but with the ‘below’. This Holy Spirit penetrates history to its forgotten depths.
The very fact that that the disciples speak in the historical languages of the region, is profoundly symbolic. ‘And they were amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galileans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our toungues the wonderful works of God. And they were all amazed, and were in doubt, saying one to another, What meaneth this?’ (Acts 2,7-13)
Indeed, what does this mean? This is the genius of Cranmer’s lectionary (BCP), that with the Old Testament reading we can see salvation history as a layered reality. The Spirit of Pentecost is the icon of the God of History. This fiery Presence reveals God’s compassion that embraces the whole of history. These historical languages are a remembrance of the languages once spoken by people in the times that Deuteronomy recorded. God’s Shekinah (divine Glory) embraces and remembers all. The sudden cacophony of languages is total joy. (Others mocking said, These men are full of new wine.) This joy is mingled with the joy of angels. And this is a hidden scene of Pentecost which one must not overlook. It is itself God’s joy over the life of the nameless victims of the past. Pentecost tells us, and warns us, that all are fully alive − will be fully alive.
This explains the apocalyptic undertone of Peter’s speech at Pentecost. ‘I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy: and I will show wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke: the sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come: and it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’(Acts 2,17-21) Pentecost is not a narcissistic joy of the present moment. Pentecost, as a Christian feast, is the feast of our responsibility in front of the Lord of history. Can we see in our Easter joy the derailed moments of our present? Those victims who are there in the wake of new arm races, new wars, new economic growths − our present victories?
These are verbal Icons, expressions of how the world is seen from Saint Augustine's..