Sunday Reflections: Celebrating Pentecost
Living Spirit Ministries Pastor Dai Morgan shares his thoughts
By Dai Morgan of Swissvale
For Roman Catholics and Protestant churches, May 27 is Pentecost Sunday.
For those in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, Pentecost Sunday occurs on June 3.
Pentecost is a special day on the Christian liturgical calendar. It is when the church celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit. Some folks like to refer to it as the birthday of the church. It represents the moment when the first followers of Jesus Christ turned from fear and uncertainty to become open and bold. From that point forward, they began organizing communities of faith, starting in Jerusalem.
In first century Palestine, Pentecost (Shavuot) was a Jewish celebration, also known as the Feast of Weeks. It was the second of three annual pilgrimage festivals, on which all Jewish males were encouraged to worship at the Temple in Jerusalem—the first festival was Passover (Pesach), the third was Tabernacles (Sukkoth). The ancient Greek word “Pentecost” means “the fiftieth.” This is because the feast fell seven weeks after the opening of the winter harvest season, which started with Passover. Today, Christianity commemorates Pentecost fifty days after Easter.
The event at Pentecost is noteworthy because of two factors: 1) it equipped the followers of Jesus with renewed energy and 2) it displayed highly unusual phenomena—as Christians believe, a sign of divine empowerment. The Biblical story of Pentecost is found in the second chapter of the Book of Acts in the New Testament.
This passage describes how, as the followers of Jesus were gathered on the day of Pentecost, they heard the sound of a mighty wind. They then observed what appeared to be flames moving in all directions. A “tongue” of fire settled on each of the believers. At this point, they spontaneously began to speak about God in other languages which, surprisingly, could be understood by nearby native speakers of those languages. The author attributes this to the action of the Holy Spirit.
It is worth noting that during the pilgrimage festivals of ancient Judaism, the city of Jerusalem probably became the most crowded place on earth. By this time, the Jews had become scattered far and wide, in and beyond the Roman Empire. The crowds would have been dense and many foreign Jews would have been present. One need not doubt the setting, as described in Acts, chapter two.
For those who question the strange happenings in the biblical account of Pentecost, it can be noted that the historical evidence indicates that from this point Christianity quickly grew and spread in a way that, given the circumstances, defies reason and expectation.
The Holy Spirit is recognized by the Church as the catalyst behind the expansion of the Christian movement. Indeed, Christians understand the Holy Spirit to be the source of the active presence of God in the world today.
On the liturgical calendar, Pentecost Sunday marks the beginning of the longest period in the Church Year. The Sundays which follow Pentecost Sunday are numbered and designated as “the Sundays after Pentecost.” For churches in the Western tradition, this period extends all the way to the end of November.
The liturgical calendar does more than organize the days of the year; it also reflects the course of God’s salvation history. Each season and period of the calendar corresponds to a time in history. Pentecost and the days which follow represent the Church Age, the last two thousand years—the time in which we now live.
Banners, bulletin covers, educational materials and decorations will often reflect the liturgical calendar. Pentecost Sunday is typically symbolized by the color red. The Sundays which follow are most often marked by the color green. Images representing agriculture and labor are common. Themes of history and heritage are appropriate. References to the Book of Acts or the New Testament epistles can be emphasized. In congregations where the preacher uses the Christian year as a guide, messages during this period will often focus on topics such as The Christian life, Mission and Service, or The Role of the Church.
If you participate in Christian worship during Pentecost, see if you can notice the symbols and themes related to this time of year.
Morgan is the pastor at Swissvale United Methodist Church.