Waiting for Pentecost

emmaus

A question that is often addressed in Torrey Academy staff meetings is, “what’s the best way to teach our students?” What is the business, if you will, of education? How we answer this question determines what we do with our students in our classrooms. On this point, Dorothy Sayers, in The Mind of the Maker, declares that “It is the business of education to wait upon Pentecost.”1 We at Torrey Academy agree with this wholeheartedly, but it sounds a bit strange; are we really waiting for tongues of flame to descend upon our heads in a Torrey class? Of course not. (At least, this hasn’t happened yet.) Sayers does not use “Pentecost” as the historical descent of the Holy Spirit after the Ascension, but the idea of Pentecost does paint a picture of what we are waiting for.

So what is Pentecost? At the historical Pentecost, it was the descent of the Holy Spirit and subsequent illumination of the disciples. Sayers uses the term to mean an epiphany, a revelation of an idea that illuminates students’ minds. If the business of education is waiting for Pentecost, educators must wait for the ideas presented in texts and discussion to work upon students’ minds until they have such an epiphany.

But why wait? Torrey Academy teaches students using Great Books and asking Socratic questions. We don’t give students answers; we make them find them themselves, which means quite a bit of waiting. Probably all Torrey students have experienced a Torrey class where the question seems obscure, the ideas of the book are confusing, and the air in the room is dense and a bit hopeless. One might wonder what the purpose of discussing the book is if the “answer” seems perpetually elusive and the tutor won’t help find it. But, as Sayers says, “It is the business of education to wait upon Pentecost”, not to force it to happen. Pentecost “will happen…” Sayers says, “…from some quarter or other, the Power will descend, to flame or to smolder until it is ready to issue in a new revelation.”2 This Pentecost is the epiphany we are waiting for: the revelation of truth that will finally answer the question we are asking.

The Discipline of Waiting

Christ himself—often surprisingly to us looking back on it—made his followers wait. On the road to Emmaus, two followers of Christ were walking away from Jerusalem, the site of the recent death of Jesus, discussing in confusion why Jesus died instead of becoming their King. Luke tells us, “…two of them were going that very day to a village named Emmaus… and they were talking with each other about all these things which had taken place. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus Himself approached and began traveling with them. But their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him.”3 Jesus then questioned them about what they were discussing, which began an extensive conversation about the nature of the Messiah, and what the Old Testament Scriptures had to say about Him. They eat together when they reach Emmaus, and the two finally recognize Jesus as the risen Messiah, as he breaks the bread. They say to one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?”

Jesus makes his followers wait, and engages them in extensive conversation to lead them to the truth. What follows is a realization that their entire discussion on their walk to Emmaus was part of the unveiling process, culminating in their epiphany in the breaking of the bread. This slow unveiling becomes for them a far more powerful experience than Jesus merely declaring Himself at the beginning of the journey. Instead, they are left knowing, in the fullest sense possible, that Jesus is the risen Messiah. If their wrong ideas about Old Testament prophecy and the nature of the Messiah had not been done away with, if the true meaning of the Scriptures had not been discussed and if they had not experienced with Him the breaking of the bread, they would not have had such a rich epiphany. In fact, they may have continued to expect a Messiah that would overthrow the Roman government if Jesus had announced himself at the outset. The work done to discard these wrong ideas and discover truth in the text is the thing that led to their Pentecost at Emmaus.

Waiting for Pentecost in Learning

This is like a Torrey class. We read a text, and in discussing the text we strive to find answers. But, like the two traveling to Emmaus, we do not insist on a revelation immediately. We wait for Pentecost, because when the epiphany does come, it comes from a deep experience of the text and its ideas. Pentecost cannot be forced. If an answer is handed to students in a lecture or a textbook, it is not an epiphany, and the truth of it is not fully known.

But it is hard, waiting for Pentecost. We are used to consuming information and taking little time to seek truth. But can you imagine one of the two turning away from the road to Emmaus in impatience? He would have missed Jesus Himself.


  1. See page 112 in Sayers, Dorothy. The Mind of the Maker. New York: HarperCollins, 1987. Print.
  2. Ibid.
  3. See the Gospel of Luke 24:12-35