More recently, this day has been emphasized as the opening of salvation to all races and nations throughout the world. Both our first reading from Genesis and our second reading from Acts draw attention to the varieties of languages among peoples on the earth. In the story of the building of the Tower of Babel, God sees the people of the earth, who then all speak one language, creating a structure that will save them from being scattered. God’s response to this is to go down and confuse their language, giving them many, and then to scatter them all over the earth. This is the final step in God’s creation of a culturally mature civilization, with multiple territories and language groups.
The complexity, challenge, and struggle presented to the spread of the gospel by this situation is overcome by the coming of the Holy Spirit in the second chapter of Acts. After the violent rushing wind and the tongues of flame come upon the Apostles, they begin to speak in other languages (not tongues) through power given them by the Holy Spirit. These languages are understood by their respective native speakers among the gathered faithful, allowing them to hear about God’s great saving deeds in their own languages.
Our gospel reading from John takes this gift of knowing from knowing about (“hearing”) to truly knowing (“seeing”). Jesus tells his disciples that being in relationship with him has put them in relationship with God, as Jesus mediates the relationship between God and the disciples. Once Jesus has ascended to the Father, he tells them, they will know him (Jesus, their mediator) through the Advocate whom he will send to “abide” in those who “know him.” This Advocate, the Holy Spirit, will them mediate the relationship between Jesus and his disciples.
It is our abiding in Jesus through the Holy Spirit common to us all that unites us in common bonds of love that transcend all differences, even the difference between the living and the dead. This great Sunday in the life of the Church reminds us of the essential unity in which we live, no matter how different we may seem to be.