When the time for Shavu’ot was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. Suddenly, from the sky, came a noise like a strong driving wind, filling the entire house where they were. There appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. First Reading for Pentecost
In the third month after the Israelites’ departure from the land of Egypt, on the first day, they came to the wilderness of Sinai. Moses went up to the mountain of God. Then the NAME called to him from the mountain, “This is what you will say to the house of Jacob; tell the Israelites: You have seen how I treated the Egyptians and how I bore you up on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now, if you listen to me completely and keep my Brit, you will be my treasured possession among all peoples, though all the earth is mine. You will be to me a kingdom of priests, a holy nation. That is what you must tell the Israelites. Exodus 19:1-6
The Jewish people leave Egypt when the moon is full. The first day of the month is the new moon. There are just about 50 days separating Passover and Shavu’ot. Exodus 20 is the giving of the Ten Commandments.
Days are coming…when I will make a new Brit with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. This is the Brit, I will make with the house of Israel after those days… I will place my teaching within them, and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Jeremiah 31:31-33
Shavu’ot commemorates the giving of Torah at Sinai. Pentecost, the same date on the Christian calendar commemorates the giving of the Holy Spirit in the upper room. Sinai was a volcano. There was fire in the form of lightning, arching in all directions, descending toward the people when Moses was with them. There was fire, descending like lightning, when the Holy Spirit came to the people. The Jewish community celebrates its birth as a people with their receiving Torah. The Christian community identifies its birth with Pentecost.
The Hebrew word for tongue can also mean an expression. The Hebrew word for fire is also the word for mankind, understood in the highest sense of the term/being a gentleman. The Prologue to the Ten Commandments gives the explanation.
Hear, Israel, the customs and precedents I proclaim in your hearing, this day, that you may learn them and guard to do them. The NAME, our God, cut a Brit with us at Horeb; not with our ancestors did the NAME cut this brit, but with us, each of us, alive, here, this day. Face to face, the NAME spoke with you on the mountain from the midst of the fire; I am the NAME your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt/Oppression, out of the house of menial labor.
The implied word is to remember. Remember what it was like to be oppressed. When you see others suffer, do something. The Jewish community has the Physical Presence, of the escape from Egypt, as recounted in liturgy. We have the Physical Presence in the Eucharist, remembering Christ’s Passion and death, and our dying and rising with him.
The difference is that Moses receives the Ten Commandments on tablets of stone, Eben, We receive the New Torah of God through the Ben/the Son of God. The word for Tablet/Luke comes from a root word meaning to join. Torah and Gospel are supposed to join people. Tablets are joined things, like columns of lines on a page, or leaves of a book. Our New Covenant is that of Jeremiah, commandments written, not upon Eben/stone, but upon the heart. The command is for compassion.
St. Augustine says it well in the City of God:
This heavenly city, while sojourning on earth, calls citizens out of all nations, and gathers a society of pilgrims of all languages, not scrupling about diversities in the manners, laws, and institutions… It recognizes that, however various these are, they all tend to the same end of earthly peace. Far from rescinding and abolishing these diversities. It even preserves and adopts them, as long only as no hindrance to the worship of the one supreme and true God is introduced. Even the heavenly city, while in its state of pilgrimage, avails itself of the peace of earth, and, so far as it can without injuring faith and godliness, desires and maintains a common agreement among men regarding the acquisition of the necessaries of life. It makes this earthly peace bear upon the peace of heaven, for this alone can be truly called and esteemed the peace of the reasonable creatures, consisting as it does in the perfectly ordered and harmonious enjoyment of God and of one another in God. City of God, Book 19:17
In its pilgrim, state the heavenly city possesses this peace by faith; and by this faith, it lives justly when it refers to the attainment of that peace every good action towards God and man; for the life of the city is a social life. City of God, Book 19:17
Non-Christians chastise us Christians for our Christmas trees, Yule logs, use of the word Easter, a pagan term. They point out how Christmas day was a Roman holiday before we celebrated Christ’s birth. St. Augustine is saying, “So what. We will use anything not in contradiction of our principles to promote our principles. We form ourselves to the societies in which we live.
As to the three modes of life, the contemplative, the active, and the composite, although, so long as a man’s faith is preserved, he may choose any of them without detriment to his eternal interests, yet he must never overlook the claims of truth and duty. No man has a right to lead such a life of contemplation as to forget in his own ease the service due to his neighbor; nor has any man a right to be so immersed in active life as to neglect the contemplation of God. City of God Book 19:19
There is no room for St Augustine for liturgy without meaning. God cannot hear the word of empty contemplation because there is nothing to hear. Likewise, he has no place for Martha, the sister of Mary, who prattles about in her daily grind, with no concern for the final cause of all things, and her place in it.
St. Augustine loved his music and divides the Ten Commandments as he does, because he compares them with harmony, as a one-hundred-piece orchestra. The Church, following his example, loves to take the middle ground, the harmonious ground in almost all things, except as it relates to our relationship with God. Pentecost is about Jews from around the world, with different customs and traditions, coming to one place, the City of Peace/Jerusalem. Shouldn’t we strive to be E Pluribus?