If you love me you will keep my commandments … the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything. (John 14:15, 26)
The Death and Resurrection of Jesus - as I guess we all know - happened when Jerusalem was filled with pilgrims who were in the city for the great celebration of the Passover. The crowds gather to cheer Jesus into the city, on what we now call Palm Sunday. Pilgrims were buying and trading in the temple when he turned over the tables. They gathered there to listen to him preach. The Last Supper was a Passover Meal, and St John points out that Jesus sacrifice on the Cross coincided with the slaughter of Lambs in the temple for the Great Feast. When we celebrate Easter in the Mass of the vigil we recall the passover itself and the escape of the Hebrews through the Red Sea, which the Church sees as a foreshadowing of Baptism, our own share in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Indeed this great candle, which stands in pride of place, is the Paschal candle - the Candle of the Pascha, the Passover.
And now seven weeks later, on the 50th day after the Passover, the Jewish people celebrate another festival, the feast of Shavuot. Again the city of Jerusalem is full of pilgrims, pilgrims from all over the known world, the Roman empire. People of many home languages.
Parthians, Medes and Elamites; people from Mesopotamia, Judaea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya round Cyrene; as well as visitors from Rome – Jews and proselytes alike – Cretans and Arabs. (Acts 2:9-11)
The name Shavuot literally means “Weeks”, “The Feast of Weeks”, though in Greek it was named not after the seven weeks, but the 50 days, Pentecost. It was a festival of the Harvest, the thanksgiving for the Gifts of God, and came to be also for the Jews the day when God’s greatest gift to them was given, the gift of the Law, given to Moses on Mount Sinai.
Our Christian feasts are rooted in these Jewish celebrations, and this year Jews and Christians are celebrating these connected feasts at about the same time. For us Christians, these festivals have been transformed by Christ - his Passover from death to eternal life, and his greatest Gift, the Gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
Remembering this connection, this origin, reminds us of what we shares with the chosen people, and also how Christ has fulfilled and transformed their heritage. For the Jews the Great Gift it the Law, set out in the five books of Law in what we call the Old Testament, and subject to centuries of interpretation: for us it is the Holy Spirit, who transforms our hearts, sustains us through the sacramentsm, and establishes, sustains and protects the Church.
The two feasts, the two Pentecosts may seem to us to present a clear contrast, between a document of Law, and a motive power in our hearts. But we must be careful. Both feasts, both Gifts, are beyond ourselves and remind us that God requires our submission our obedience and our love. Service of him is to accept and adopt his will. To follow his Law, to be guided by his Spirit. In neither case does the Gift make us our own source of authority and truth, but rather reminds us that we must follow him, for only in this way can we be led into all truth.
It is not that the Gift of the Spirit enables us to overrule the Law with our own whims, wishes and wilfulness - but by the Gift of the Spirit, God writes the Law into our hearts. And we must read his will, accept the authority of his Word and his Church. And follow him. And serve him. And call others to the same truth.