One of the tough things about this section of scripture is getting the simple physical geography of it all to be clear — because it just isn’t clear. They didn’t re-tell this and then write it down with the thought that anyone who heard or read it later — us in fact — just wouldn’t understand the basics of what was going on. They must have assumed that we would know about why “they were all together in one place” again for the day of Pentecost and understand that the “house where they were sitting” was, in fact, a house. We would know what it looked like. Think about “Bob met Caroline at the Palm restaurant.” We would know (even if you don’t know the Palm restaurant) that the name signifies a ritzy place or a special place because, after all, they didn’t meet at Applebee’s or Denny’s, you see. And we would understand that maybe they didn’t yet have a relationship of any sort if they were meeting there instead of arriving together. Or maybe they had a vendor-client type of relationship to meet there. Just one tiny made up sentence and we have a little story that subsequent sentences would flesh out and cue our thoughts. So we just do not have the information in our heads and hearts to fully understand Acts 2:1-13 instantly the way that an early listener would have. Or … that “practical” information might not be as important as it feels to me. So what exactly do we know?
Here’s what we know: It was the day of Pentecost. They were all together in one place (the footnote says it was “the full 120 people from Acts 1:15” but maybe it was just the newly reformed 12 with Matthias now taking the spot vacant by Judas). A big house indeed for 120 or they were on a patio or a rooftop? They were sitting with the sound started. Other people who were not a part of them (but were devout Jews even if they were strangers) showed up. Had Peter and the gang jumped up and rushed outside? We don’t know. In Acts 2:14 it says that “…Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed” the crowd. So that’s the little scene in terms of human physical details that we have to visualize.
Oh, since Pentecost is 50 days from Passover, we could envision that is was warmer weather than at Passover. And I have just turned to Wikipedia, and discovered that the Jewish Pentecost or Shavuot marks the wheat harvest and commemorates the anniversary of the day when God gave the Torah to the nation of Israel. Passover is freedom from slavery; Pentecost is the gift of becoming a nation, of having the Torah. (I would say freedom from fear — now we know what to do, how to act, who we are.) The Holy Spirit arrived and gave the gift of being understood in all languages; of being able to share the story of Jesus — God’s deeds of power — on the day celebrating the giving of the Torah! Well! That is the sort of thing that just thrills me. And I finally — finally! — get why it is called the Birthday of the church. Since the gift of the Torah formed the Israelites into a nation; thus this gift from God is the starting point for the church (maybe?).
Of course I barely know anything. But it feels nice to have the basics shipshape, so that we can go on and think about the more important mystical stuff like tongues of fire.