We acknowledge—sometimes celebrate—Christmas and Easter, of course! We recognize Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, and Super Bowl Sunday! But Pentecost comes and goes and many of our churches leave us in our perhaps benign, but unfortunate ignorance!
Pentecost is the Greek name for the Jewish Festival of Weeks (Shavuot). The word pentecost means “fifty days,” referring to its time seven weeks (from Saturday to Sunday that is fifty days) after Passover. According to Exodus 34:22, it was given to the Jews to celebrate while Moses was on Mt. Sinai and was one of the three feasts that all male Jews were required to celebrate (Deuteronomy 16:16).
Besides the events of Acts 2, Pentecost is only mentioned in the New Testament by Paul who tries his best to be in Jerusalem for the feast after his third missionary journey (Acts 20:16); he also uses the feast day to mark time in his first letter to the Corinthian Christians (16:8). Paul may be keeping his Jewish traditions, but it could have taken on a new significance as well.
Within a century after the apostles, the early church fathers mention Pentecost as if it were a well-established feast day for early Christians. Tertullian says in On Baptism:
After that, Pentecost is a most joyous space for conferring baptisms; wherein, too, the resurrection of the Lord was repeatedly proved among the disciples, and the hope of the advent of the Lord indirectly pointed to, in that, at that time, when He had been received back into the heavens, the angels told the apostles that He would so come, as He had withal ascended into the heavens; at Pentecost, of course. But, moreover, when Jeremiah says, “And I will gather them together from the extremities of the land in the feast-day”, he signifies the day of the Passover and of Pentecost, which is properly a feast-day. (Chapter 19)
One of my professors at Harding Dr. James D. Bales used to call Acts 2 “the hub of the Bible.” He was not the first nor the last to recognize the immense importance of the events which Luke records in that chapter:
- Coming of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles 2:1-4 – On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place.2 Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. 3 Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. 4 And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.
- Apostles First Preach the Gospel to the Jews 2:14 – Then Peter stepped forward with the eleven other apostles and shouted to the crowd, “Listen carefully, all of you, fellow Jews and residents of Jerusalem!
- The Fulfillment of the Great Prophecy 2:16 – No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days it will be, God declares,that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
- The First Proclamation of the Risen Messiah as Lord 2:36 – Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
- The Promise of Salvation from Sin and the Gift of the Holy Spirit 2:37-39 – Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” 38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.”
- The First Baptisms of New Believers 2:41 – Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day—about 3,000 in all.
The Eastern Church considers Pentecost the second holiest day after Easter. Liturgical Christians in most western countries celebrate Pentecost, some as a continuance of the Easter celebration, for many as a time for baptisms, and for all a day of joy and new birth.
So where is Pentecost in our churches? I have scratched my head trying to figure out why there is virtually no acknowledgement of Pentecost—even from our churches that have cornerstones marking their beginning in 33 A.D?
Here are a few brief thoughts:
- We have never been very comfortable with the Holy Spirit, not in song, not in prayer, not in practice. So we probably can’t figure out a way to celebrate this Holy Spirit event.
- Our roots are anti-liturgical, so we react to their celebration by ignoring Pentecost and missing a great opportunity to celebrate!
- We have long opposed any “holy days”—but we seem to be OK with Easter and Christmas—finally. Maybe we can work on Pentecost.
- This one I hate, but I think it is true: Our culture has not secularized Pentecost as it has Easter and Christmas.If we had an Easter Bunny or a Santa Claus type for Pentecost along with appropriate children’s traditions, then we’d figure out a way to do it at church as well.
OK, I’m making a note to myself right now to do a “Preparing Children for Pentecost” series of blogs next year as I have done for other celebrations in the past.
What would you like to do?