The Pentecost story is a long one. Peter’s speech wanders dangerously close to Antisemitism and is vaguely Supercessionist. Rather than having to deal with the fullness of the story, we instead only get half of it in the RCL. This is much better than the quarter of it that we got in the old BCP lectionary, but it still leaves us wanting: not just because we don’t get to hear the climax of the story – “they were cut to the quick” – but also because the focus of the early part of Peter’s sermon is so strongly eschatological is to be difficult to deal with 2,000 years later.
The end is near!
Peter fully expects that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is the beginning of the end of days. His sermon begins by paraphrasing the prophet Joel’s prophecy of the coming of a new age when the Spirit of God will be poured out on all people: young and old, slave and free, men and women. What Peter and the rest of the 120 were experiencing was, at least to Peter’s mind, the fulfillment of that prophecy: a harbinger of the end. Jesus was coming back to finish what he had started in his life, death, and resurrection. Peter’s word is Joel’s word:
The end is near!
“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Two thousand years later, Jesus is still seated at the right hand of the Father. The Spirit continues to be at work in men and women, young and old, slave and free, but the apocalyptic fervor has waned. The realized eschatology of Peter has faded into 25 lifetimes of the Spirit helping disciples figure out life in the meantime when prophesy is hard to discern, visions are hard to come by, and dreams are often fuzzy at best. The gift of the Spirit on Pentecost ultimately wasn’t that Jesus was going to return immediately, but that God wouldn’t leave us comfortless while we waited. We aren’t left here rudderless, but in the Holy Spirit, we have a guide for the long, often difficult, journey of discipleship. This gift is promised, as Peter goes on to say, to “everyone whom the Lord God calls” (2:39).