All of the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages. . . Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. . . Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? How is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?” Acts 2:4–8
Jostling along with a stream of pilgrims, I make my way up stone steps to the upper room (Cenacle) in Old Jerusalem. I love this echoing place with its ancient arches and mysterious light. A band of Asian Christians enters and gathers to pray. Their leader sweeps around the circle, laying hands on each pilgrim. Upon receiving this blessing, a young woman bursts into pulsating, full-throated praise in tongues. Others in the room fall silent. Two thousand years ago, mighty wind and tongues of fire filled the upper room. Now tongues again proclaim God’s grandeur!
I wish this were the actual upper room where Jesus said, “This is my body, broken for you,” where the risen Christ showed his hands and side, where Pentecost fire came down. But Roman conquerors turned that structure and most of Jerusalem into rubble in AD 70. What pilgrims visit today is a medieval hall built on the foundation of an ancient synagogue that may have been constructed on the site of the original upper room.
Cenacle comes from Latin for “supper.” Since at least the fourth century, Christians have claimed this as the Last Supper location. Archeologist Bargil Pixner notes that foundations of the first- or second-century synagogue below the Cenacle are oriented toward the sepulcher of Jesus—not toward the temple as one would expect of a synagogue. Jewish Christians, he believes, built this synagogue upon ruins of the hall that the Gospels call the upper room. On the lowest level archeologists found graffiti that some interpret as, “O Jesus, that I may live” and “Conquer, Savior, mercy.”
The Holy Spirit in Acts 2 does not reverse the scrambling of languages that happened at the tower of Babel. Rather, the Spirit validates the vast cultural and linguistic diversity of the human family. Visitors to Jerusalem from “every nation under heaven” hear the gospel message in their own native tongue.
These include pilgrims from Parthia, Media, Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, Libya, Rome, Crete and Arabia (2:9–11). From here or from near this spot, Jewish pilgrims went back to far-flung homelands reporting that, among followers of Jesus, the prophecy of Joel is fulfilled: “In the last days . . . I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh” (2:17).
The Holy Spirit makes peace by transcending every barrier of language and ethnicity to create one humanity in Jesus Christ.
© 2015 J. Nelson Kraybill ***************************************
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Join me for a Peace-Pilgrim bible study tour to Jordan, Israel and Palestine this fall! See Holy Land (Jordan, Israel & Palestine) with Pastor Nelson Kraybill – November 5-16, 2015. For a tour in 2016, see https://tourmagination.com/tours/by-date/2016-tours/498-jordan-palestine-israel-a-journey-of-hope