Family Liturgies

Acts 2: What Do You Hear?

pentecost-Erika Marksbury

Scripture Reading:  Acts 2:1-7, The Voice

When the holy day of Pentecost came, 50 days after Passover, they were gathered together in one place.

Picture yourself among the disciples:
A sound roars from the sky without warning, the roar of a violent wind, and the whole house where you are gathered reverberates with the sound. Then a flame appears, dividing into smaller flames and spreading from one person to the next. All the people present are filled with the Holy Spirit and begin speaking in languages they’ve never spoken, as the Spirit empowers them.

Because of the holy festival, there are devout Jews staying as pilgrims in Jerusalem from every nation under the sun. They hear the sound, and a crowd gathers. They are amazed because each of them can hear the group speaking in their native languages. They are shocked and amazed by this.

Thoughts on Scripture

This passage lets you know as soon as it begins: something big is about to happen. A sound comes from the sky, so loud it shakes the whole structure, and then there’s fire, everywhere – flaming, but not devouring. And then there are stories all at the same time, stories spilling out from every tongue. And the stories are big, too – they’re the stories of things God has done in the world.

And it would be easy to feel on the outside of a scene like that. The people gathered might have felt almost like they’d entered a circus – there’s a crowd, a lot of noise, maybe it’s hard for people to find their place. But then, amid all the chatter, the travelers begin to pick out phrases they know. They realize they can hear their own languages. Far away from all that is familiar, they recognize the sounds of home. The name they use for God. Words they have spoken all their lives. And they hear those words as welcome. The words let the travelers know that they have a part in this big story. That they belong. That God’s love and God’s movement is not limited to those who speak only one way – it is a story for all the world to hear.

Questions to Discuss

– Have you ever been in a place whose language you didn’t speak? What did that sound like? What did it feel like?

– Have you ever known the words someone was using, but not understood what they were saying? Or have you ever not understood the words they were using, but known what they said anyway? Why does that sometimes happen?

– What are some stories from scripture that shock and amaze you? Share them with your family, and make sure to say which parts you find especially incredible.

– What’s something big God has done – in your life, or in your family, or your community? How would you tell that story?

Spiritual Practice

Think of a phrase, or a sentence, that is important to you and your family. Maybe it’s something that comforts you, or a promise that you hope in, or a commitment you make to each other. (“Welcome home” or “God is love” or “Peace be with you” might be fun to do this with.) Whatever you choose, learn how to say it in lots of different languages. You might ask friends or family or community members who know other languages to translate for you, or you could enter your words on Google Translate.

Practice saying the different versions of your phrase, so you hear how the new words sound in your ears, feel how they move on your tongue. And maybe someday, when you meet a new friend who speaks a different language than you, you’ll have something to say! Until then, you can repeat your new phrase, in all its languages, as a prayer that reminds you of the many ways and words of God’s people everywhere.

Holy One,
For all of the ways you speak to us –
in rushing wind,
in dancing flames,
in words we understand,
and in all that transcends language,
we give thanks.
Give us courage to speak your love,
everywhere we go,
to everyone we meet.


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