The Pentecost, by El Greco
June 8, 2014, is Pentecost Sunday, and as noted in El Greco | Hear what the Spirit is saying:
In [the book of] Acts of the Apostles an account is given of the day of Pentecost when the twelve apostles, as well as Mary and people of many nationalities were gathered in one place. All at once the sound of a mighty rushing wind came from heaven and filled the room: “And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:2-4)
The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) gives several alternatives for Pentecost readings. (For the full readings see The Lectionary Page.)
The readings for The Scribe’s church are: 1st Corinthians 12:3b-13, Psalm 104:25-35, 37 (page 736 BCP), Acts 2:1-21 (partly noted above), and John 20:19-23, which can lead to this thought:
Pentecost might be considered “Tongue Sunday,” both because of the “tongues of fire” visible in the El Greco painting above, and because of the phenomenon of “speaking in tongues.”
In his Commentary on the Bible, Isaac Asimov wrote about this special day. He noted that Christians generally regard the Pentecost “speaking in tongues” as a miracle, in that the Apostles weren’t just babbling but rather were speaking in such a way that people from a host of nations and peoples understood them. He said it was likely the Apostles knew a smattering of Greek – the “universal language” at the time – in addition to their native Aramaic, so that “if, in their ecstasy, they uttered phrases in both languages, then those who listened to them from the various nations listed, would have understood something.” (E.a.)
Nevertheless, it’s not just Christians today who saw the events on this Pentecost as a miracle; “so did the onlookers … for many were converted to the belief in Jesus as Messiah.” As noted in Acts 2:41, “the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.”
Another note: That sound – “like the rush of a violent wind” from heaven described in the reading above – is widely seen as the Descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples as a whole. For that reason and for the addition of the 3,000 souls on one day, “Pentecost is sometimes described by some Christians today as the ‘Birthday of the Church.'”
In the first reading – 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13 – Paul added some of his commentary, beginning with: “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” He then described a number of spiritual gifts – healing, working miracles, prophesy – but said that all were motivated “by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.”
Turning to Psalm 104, the International Bible Commentary said the writer “has been called ‘the Wordsworth of the ancients,” and the Psalm itself as “Genesis set to music.” (Also – and not to be heretical or anything – the IBC said Psalm 104 resembled the “Egyptian Hymn to Aten as the source of all life,” which hymn was written by Akhenaten, “alias Amenhotep IV.”)
Anyway, the psalm-readings for the day – verse 25-45, and 37 – first emphasize the sea, “traditional object of awe and even dread to Israelite landlubbers,” emphasizing God’s power over such a dreadful force of nature. Verse 27 notes, “There move the ships, and there is that Leviathan, which you have made for the sport of it.” (Indicating God has a sense of humor.)
After the Acts 2 reading comes the Gospel – John 20:19-23 – in which Jesus first appeared to His disciples after the Resurrection. At that point in time, “He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.'”
So you could say that Pentecost is literally a Great Day in the Morning!!
An image gleaned from the search term “speaking in tongues…”
The upper image is courtesy of Pentecost – El Greco – WikiArt.org – WikiPaintings.
The full citation to Asimov’s Guide to the Bible (Two Volumes in One) The Old and New Testaments, Avenel Books (NY), 1981 Edition, at pages 999-1003.
As to the origin of the phrase “Great day in the morning,” that’s a tough one, but see for example Southern Slang tracihill.com: “an exclamation. ‘Great day in the morning! That’s the biggest punkin’ I ever did see!'” The site also added the following examples:
I swanee– An exasperation. Pronounced “swun-ee”. “He failed that test again? I swanee that boy!!” And that’s not to mention “Fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down…”
See also Have you ever heard this phrase? – Yahoo Answers, which gave two conflicting answers: First, “It means ‘great day’ in its early stages i.e. a great day in the morning with expectations of a great day for the rest of it.” But another answer gave this meaning: “enjoy the morning as u will be doomed by the evening.”
And finally, as to speaking in tongues see Glossolalia – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, referring to the “fluid vocalizing of speech-like syllables that lack any readily comprehended meaning, in some cases as part of religious practice. Some consider it as a part of a sacred language. It is a common practice amongst Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity.”
On the other hand, it could be argued this is another example of some people taking isolated Bible passages out of context, like those who handle snakes based on Mark 16:17-18, or those who have a “quiverfull” of children based on a passage from Psalm 127. (See Snake handling – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, and QuiverFull .com :: Psalm 127:3-5.)
You may want to also check out Statutory interpretation – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, on “In pari materia (‘upon the same matter or subject’)[:] When a statute is ambiguous, its meaning may be determined in light of other statutes on the same subject matter.”
In this case you might want to consider how handling snakes or having a “quiverfull” advances the three main promises of the Bible, to wit: Jesus promising 1) that He would accept anyone who came to Him, 2) that He came so His followers could have life “in all its abundance,” and 3) that He expected His followers to perform even greater miracles than He did.
And finally consider First Corinthians 14, verse 4: “Those who speak in a tongue build up themselves, but those who prophesy build up the church.” Verse 5 adds, “One who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues…” Verse 19: “I would rather speak five words with my mind, in order to instruct others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.” And finally see verse 23: If a church “comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your mind?” (Emphasis added.)
“Snake handling at Pentecostal Church … 1946,” courtesy of Wikipedia, above.
Note also the guy on the right, whose nickname might well be Stumpy.