A Word About Beginnings

It’s a new year and I’m thinking about beginnings. In particular, the beginning of the church. Luke described it like this: 

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Isn’t it odd that Luke described the flames as tongues? Did they look like tongues? Why not say “flames of fire” or “blazes of fire” or “pieces of fire”? 

Perhaps there’s a reference here to another beginning. At the beginning of everything, God spoke the world into existence. 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

So perhaps Acts 2 harkens back to John 1, and to Genesis 1. 

Paul says that Jesus’ sacrifice made “one new humanity” out of those who follow him. When God made humanity the first time, he spoke the Word. When he remade humanity, he showed tongues of fire and breathed new speech into his followers. 

So what does this symbolism mean for us? 

First, it means that the Word of God is powerful. Both Jesus and his written word in the scriptures should be honored and taken seriously. 

But it also carries a warning about our words. As image-bearers of the Creator, we can use our words to create — to make beauty, healing and justice from the situations around us. Or we can use them to destroy — to make fear, suspicion, and disunity. As Jesus’ brother noted well, 

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.

Both times God created humanity anew, he gave a central role to spoken words. As his disciples, we must be careful that our words honor the incarnate Word.