Les Miserables, Pentecost, and Hinge Moments

Acts 2:1-21 (Psalm 104:24-34, 35b, 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13, John 20:19-23) 

As for me and my house, we acknowledge two great musicals: Hamilton, and Les Misérables.  Quite a contrast, I know, but there is it.  Turning a huge book into a story that can be told in a single stage production means that corners have to be cut.  Take the moment when Marius and Cosette meet and fall in love.  In the musical it is a single happening: he turns, she is there, it is love.  In the book, Victor Hugo takes page after page to describe the first time Marius first sees Cosette and the time he takes to pluck up the courage to speak to her.  This is a hinge moment in their lives.  Marius begins to know love, and he commits to a cause.  And for the first time in her young life Cosette learns of life, love and affection beyond the strict protection of her foster father.  Their lives will never be the same again.  As Marius sings:

In my life, she has burst like the music of angels, the light of the sun.
And my life seems to stop as if something is over, and something has scarcely begun.

Now, that is a pretty good working definition of a hinge moment.  (Some may call it a “liminal” moment.)  We see such a moment in Christ Jesus.  As William Barclay describes: “With his coming, eternity had invaded time, and God had entered the human arena: life was never the same again.”

Pentecost is arguably the most obvious hinge point.  Our Jewish sisters and brothers spoke of the “present age” and the “age to come.”  The former is a time of suffering; the latter is a time in which God rules.  The “Day of the Lord” is the “between” moment in which God powerfully intervenes.  For the Church, Jesus ushers in the “age to come,” and his Gospel declares the Day of the Lord.  At Pentecost the Day is clearly seen – and more importantly – heard!  Pentecost is the hinge point between the ages.  A new age is dawning.

The new age is revealed through the Spirit, and the Spirit does something remarkable.  Scholars are divided between those who see here an example of speaking in tongues (glossolalia), and those who side with the text’s description of the ability to speak in the languages of the peoples gathered for the festival.  Regardless, something powerful is at work here.  Once again, I turn to the wonderful imagery that William Barclay offers:

For the first time in their lives, this motley mob was hearing the word of God in a way that struck straight home to their heart and that they could understand.

At Passover, the “first fruit” of the crops were offered to God.  At the Jewish festival of Pentecost (fifty days after Passover: a week of weeks) two loaves were offered to God as a remembrance of the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai, of the Covenant, and of the life-giving harvest.  And now, at the Christian holy day of Pentecost (fifty days after the day of Easter) the first Christian sermon is preached, the baptism of fire of which John the Baptist spoke (Luke 3:16) comes upon the Church.  A new day dawns.  Life is never the same again.