November 29, 2014

How Do You Celebrate Pentecost?

By Chaplain Mike

There are four major holidays in the Christian Year:

  • Christmas
  • Good Friday
  • Easter
  • Pentecost

We all know about Christmas. Not only is the story poignant and heart-warming (who doesn’t love a baby?), but it also fits with seamless perfection into our nuclear family-oriented, consumerist culture. Thanks especially to Charles Dickens, Clement Moore, Bing Crosby, Frank Capra, and the vast Christmas retail-industrial complex, we American Christians not only enjoy Christmas, we base a large portion of our national retail economy on it.

As for the two holidays that fall on Holy Week—if Spring Break (the real “holy week” for many in our culture) doesn’t interfere—many Christians go to Good Friday commemorations. Some liturgical traditions even hold three-hour services to mark the time Jesus spent on the cross. And no doubt Easter Sunday gets a fair amount of attention. But even though it has traditionally been THE holy day for the church over history, in our culture Easter comes in second place by quite a distance. The songs just aren’t as catchy as those Christmas tunes. Easter baskets can’t trump presents under the tree. The Easter Bunny vs. Santa Claus? You gotta be kiddin’ me, it’s no contest. Still, most everybody likes and gets dressed up for Easter.

But what about Pentecost?

Celebrating Pentecost
Pentecost (the word means “fifty”) is celebrated by the Jewish people fifty days after Passover. One of the three pilgrimage feasts of Israel (Leviticus 23, Deuteronomy 16), it was not originally associated with a historical event. In Leviticus it is called, “The Feast of Weeks,” a one-day festival that marked the beginning of harvest season. Both Leviticus and Deuteronomy stress that, during this harvest, special consideration was to be given to provide for the poor and the aliens in the land (Lev 23:22 , Deut 16:11-12). Based on the dating in Exodus 19:1 (when Israel arrived at Mt. Sinai) the feast of Pentecost was expanded to include a commemoration of God giving the Law to his people. The Book of Ruth, with its harvest themes, is read at this time.

When Christians think of Pentecost, we link it with the birthday of the Church. On the day of Pentecost, according to Acts 2, God poured the Holy Spirit out on his new covenant people, creating the community of those who follow Jesus and spread his Good News to the ends of the earth.

Pentecost should be one day when Christians rise up and celebrate. It’s the Church’s birthday! Yet, for many of us, particularly in non-liturgical traditions, it is simply another Sunday. And the “forgotten Person of the Trinity” is ignored yet once more. Contrast the pomp and circumstance that attends our remembrance of the Son’s coming into the world (Christmas) with the silence that greets the Spirit’s descent (Pentecost)! This is the exact opposite of the tenor of the Biblical witness! How can we get things so backwards?

The cynic in me says that our culture’s view must be, “If we can’t use it to sell stuff, then we’ll just treat it as another day.”

Apparently, we have forgotten Jesus’ words, “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7). Our Lord himself told us that the Spirit’s coming would be the best thing ever to happen for those who believe in him. For the outpouring of the Spirit is the capstone of Jesus’ finished work—he who became incarnate, who was revealed to Israel, crucified, buried, raised, ascended, and enthroned. Now from the throne his Spirit falls and puts the new covenant into operation on earth.

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more. (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances… (Ezek 36:25-27)

And so, the holiday that came to be identified with the giving of the old covenant law now marks the new covenant in action. The giving of the Law, fulfilled in Jesus, is now followed by the next great stage in God’s plan of the ages—the baptism of the Spirit, who writes God’s law in our hearts. The announcement of harvest now becomes the beginning of a great ingathering of sinners, as God calls his people from the ends of the earth. The command to remember the poor and dispossessed is fulfilled in an ever-expanding, ever more diverse community that loves and provides for one another in unselfish, sacrificial ways. The risen and vindicated Lord, now exalted to the right hand of God, where he has taken his rightful place of cosmic rule, has poured out his Spirit on God’s people, empowering them to exemplify life in a new creation and to speak its life-giving authority that raises the dead and transforms the world.

Is this not worth celebrating?

Shouldn’t our worship this Sunday be one giant birthday celebration, an explosion of color and sound, a rushing of wind and fire with powerful Gospel preaching (Acts 2), bright, thankful, joyous music (Ephesians 5:18-20), grateful praises for the hope of eternal life and renewal of all creation, beginning with our own lives (Romans 8), earnest prayers and creative, self-denying efforts for assisting the needy with Spirit-inspired love (Acts 4:32-35)?

I suggest that we raise a petition to put the celebration of Pentecost on par with the other great holidays. I can’t imagine how hurt the Holy Spirit must be when we fail to commemorate the day of his arrival. And what do we really think of the Church when we ignore her birthday? And how much do we genuinely treasure what God through Jesus has done for us, when we ignore the Divine Person who was sent to make the gifts of redemption real in our lives?

Comments

  1. I’m all for it. I especially like the Jewish tradition of showing special consideration for the poor and aliens in the land. Just imagine a gift-giving holiday like Christmas, but instead of buying gifts for relatives and friends, you provide charity and acts of kindness to those in poverty, the homeless, transients, and both legal and illegal aliens. That would truly be something if it caught on.
    It would also provide an ideal occasion for the more reserved or highly liturgical churches to let loose once a year with a little Pentecostal-style abandon. And, just to balance things out, the Pentecostals and Charismatics can observe High Church Day some time in July.

  2. I am afraid that in those evangelical congregations here in Austria that I have been a part of (and most of those I know as an observer) the situation is something like this:

    1. Christmas we celebrate because the culture does, and it is a way of connecting with the non-believers and getting them inside the church walls so we can preach to them.

    2. Easter we celebrate (sort of) because we know that it commemorates the resurrection — but then, so does every Sunday, so what’s so special about Easter?

    3. We commemorate Good Friday AND Easter because the Catholics around us would think we’re not Christians if we didn’t; but after all, every Sunday celebrates the resurrection (in theory at least), and every Lord’s Supper (once a month) commemorates the death (and that’s all it does).

    4. Pentecost — what about the church? doesn’t it say somewhere that God doesn’t care for lots of feast days? The Holy Spirit? He is all about glorifying Jesus, why would he want to draw attention to himself? So it’s just a Sunday like every other …

    For some of the congregations this is perhaps overstated a little, but not much. Most of them view special observances primarily as a way to attract outsiders, not as something intrinsic to the practice of the Christian religion (which is a term they abhor, anyway — we’re not about religion, we’re about relationship).

    • Having been in Salzburg on Ascension Thursday, it is quite a shock to find how many things were closed. Especially if you are in a tour group looking for supper. Grin.

      I’m used to the culture ignoring the religious holidays, expect Christmas and Easter.

  3. This is why I love being Roman Catholic. …….this is how I want to celebrate Pentecost…..
    Father Z has a great post on a lovely Pentecost tradition:

    http://wdtprs.com/blog/2008/05/pentecost-at-the-pantheon-rose-petals-falling-through-the-oculus/

    “In Rome on Pentecost, in the Pantheon, now a minor basilica called S. Maria ad martyres there is a beautiful custom.

    Rose petals are dropped through the circular oculus opening at the top of the dome, which is the widest is all of Rome, for all its antiquity. The petals fall to the crowds below, reminiscent of the coming of the Holy Spirit like tongues of flame.”

    • That’s a lovely tradition, and I especially like that it’s the fire brigades of Rome that are in charge of doing it :-)

      But yes, the season of Pentecost is associated with the time for Confirmation ceremonies (at least round here) but we don’t make a big enough deal of it. The Holy Spirit is much neglected, and as Trinitarians, we should be ashamed of ourselves.

  4. JoanieD says:

    Great post, Chaplain Mike. I think many Christians just do not understand the Holy Spirit. We know God the Father as Creator and we know Jesus as the Savior. I think many think of the Holy Spirit as the love of God within us, but it’s difficult to see that love as being any different from the love we see expressed by non-believers. And then, we have the discussion about the Holy Spirit “visiting” people within the “Old Testament” times but living within the Christians now. I think the Holy Spirit needs more “fleshing” out. The Charismatics MAY have a more intimate understanding of the Holy Spirit.

  5. We like the bible better than the HS because we can control the bible with our “Calvinism” or “Arminianism” or however else we chose to define ourselves – we stuff it into folders (isn’t that the root of churchianity?) so that we are in charge

    the HS is difficult – we can’t control him, he seeks to control us -

  6. I like this CM. I’m sure we can end up making it a meaningless tradtion over a few years, find a way to capitalize on it, etc. But maybe not. Maybe, as we prayerfully anticipate, welcome and celebrate his ongoing presence in our lives followed by acts of love and service that point to Jesus as Savior and Lord, we won’t have time to commercialize it. And perhaps, the one day of rememberance will become everyday living “full of the Holy Spirit and with power”.

  7. The song I heard sung most frequently at Pentecost is “Spirit of God descend upon my heart.”

    The verse that always stand out to me is verse 2.

    I ask no dream, no prophet ecstasies,
    no sudden rending of the veil of clay,
    no angel visitant, no opening skies;
    but take the dimness of my soul away.

    How is it that we can sing a prayer like that and then simultaneously wonder why the Spirit is not more active in our churches?

    • Good point. Maybe we don’t need to go as far as the hymns “Pentecostal Power” or “Pentecostal Fire is Falling” but something more than just a harmless inner stirring is perhaps what we should be seeking and singing about.

  8. Chaplain Mike, what is the painting that is in your post?

  9. Dan Crawford says:

    Whatever happened to the celebration of Ascension Thursday? (Apparently, now reduced to a minor or non-existent feast in some parts of the church.

    • It was celebrated at daily Mass on Thursday, but officially moved to Sunday so that the whole Catholic Church could celebrate it together.

      As an aside, I was in the Lancaster, PA area on Thursday. There were Mennonite/Amish stores that were closed because of Ascension Thursday, and there were huge crowds at the Mennonite churches. In addition, there more Amish horses and buggies out than I have ever seen before – traveling to meetings to celebrate Ascension Thursday. I was really amazed.

      • JoanieD says:

        PL, that is interesting about the Mennonite/Amish celebrate of Ascension Thursday. I didn’t know that.

        • Me either, JoanieD. When I asked why the store was closed, the response was heavily inflected with a “duh”:

          “Well, it’s Ascension Thursday!”

      • MAJ Tony says:

        Actually, it’s still officially a Thursday feast, just transferred to Sunday in some ecclesiastical provinces (pretty much aligned to states in the U.S.

  10. Pentecost. Certainly worth celebrating. But, aren’t these Christian “holidays” all man-made traditions to begin with? Why celebrate these “holidays” at all and instead make them a daily reminder of what our faith rests upon?

    • Watchman, that sounds good in theory, but in practice, how do you celebrate every Christian holiday every day of the year, without winding up ignoring almost all of them all the time? Isn’t it more practical to arrange them so you pay special attention to each one, on a different day of the year? That’s what the Christian Church has done throughout its history.

      • Christine – But do we need a holiday to remind us of the birth of Christ? Do we need a holiday to remember Christ’s resurrection? Do we really need a holiday to remind us of the start of the church? If we are living in the Truth and walking in the Spirit, reading our Bibles, and walking in the ways of God, these things should all be a part of our daily walk.

        • Hi Watchman,
          To me it’s not a question of whether we “need” a holiday and it’s not that we can’t celebrate Christmas or Easter or Pentecost year round. But neither do I need a birthday or an anniversary nor am I prevented from celebrating being born or married year round—-it’s just that having that one special day to remember things and celebrate them in a more focused way is kind of nice! For an anniversary in particular, it’s a special day just for me and my wife—for noone else—and it brings us together in a special way (and heaven forbid that I should forget it!). Pentecost can be a special celebration just for the church and bring unity in a special way since it’s our own unique event to share.

        • Certainly, as an individual you can do whatever you want. We are talking here about worshipping with other Christians, which does require at least a minimal amount of planning and scheduling, so that the entire group can worship in the same way at the same time.

        • MAJ Tony says:

          Actually, we really do need to celebrate the events in Salvation History. Most folks celebrate their own and family/friends birthdays, for example. WHY would you not think it important to celebrate the human birth of God-made-man? That’s a HUGE event in Salvation History, one of the “Big Four” mentioned in the original blog post here. God doesn’t technically need it, but WE need it, to be reminded of it and it’s significance. Unlike God, who sees everything all the time (sees things before, during and after they occur) and really has no “time,” man lives in a linear time continuum and only sees “now.” Celebrating the great (and small) events in Salvation History serves purposes great and small. One purpose is to memorialize them in our minds and hearts. By having a fixed calendar, and reading cycles you mitigate against agendas and hear more of the Bible.

  11. Isaac Rehberg (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

    I celebrate Pentecost by switching to the “xth Sunday in Ordinary Time” rather than “xth Sunday in Easter” in my prayerbook and lectionary!

    Actually, this is one of those holidays that can be a bit difficult to find practical ways to observe it. Don’t the Jews have a tradition of eating dairy foods on Pentecost/Shavuot? I’m thinking a DQ run might be a good part of the celebration!

    Truth be told, I’m preaching this weekend, so I’m studying up on both Pentecost and the Holy Spirit. It’s been fun and educational.

    • DQ run for Pentecost?… whatever you do, don’t let your kids dump salt on the table!

      • Isaac Rehberg (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

        ROFL so freakin’ true! I didn’t even catch that parallel!

  12. Ekstasis says:

    Thanks for the verse: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more. (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

    Has this promise been fulfilled? Mustn’t we still teach one another? Is our conscience any more sensitive or informed than that of ancient times?

    And do we not know individuals who practice evil, yet still display the “gifts” of the Spirit in a big way? How do we explain such a phenomenom?

  13. As a charismatic for more than 3 decades, I observe rather sadly that independent charismatic churches observe Pentecost about the way they pay attention to the rest of the church calendar. If it’s not Christmas or Easter, it’s ignored.
    However, the past several years Pentecost Sunday has been the Global Day of Prayer, and I join in prayer with Christians of all types & stripes around the world. Publicly gathering to exalt Jesus and ignore our differences is a great way to observe Pentecost!

    • Isaac Rehberg (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

      Hmmm… I wonder if they chose Global Day of Prayer for that very reason. I could see that as a stealth-church-calendering

  14. JoanieD says:

    I like ALL of these ways of recognizing/celebrating Pentecost:

    Ron P: “you provide charity and acts of kindness to those in poverty, the homeless, transients, and both legal and illegal aliens”

    Isaac Rehberg: “I’m thinking a DQ run might be a good part of the celebration!”

    Dan V: “I join in prayer with Christians of all types & stripes around the world.”

    Growing up Catholic, I can’t remember that there was much celebrating in regard to Pentecost. But it really was a very special day in church history. No Holy Spirit would have meant no church.

  15. There is no Pentecost without the Ascension.

    Good Friday-Resurrection-Ascension-Pentecost. Ya can’t have one without the other. They are all earth-shattering events and merit treatment as major holidays.

    • I like the comments thus far about Ascension. Didn’t mean to ignore it. Many traditions do as Fr. Ernesto said—combine Ascension and Pentecost. But I like the parallel with Good Fri/Easter.

      IMO, the whole Easter season from Easter to Pentecost could use a revival of creative interest so that it becomes the great season of celebration it deserves to be.

      That’s one of the reasons we’ve run the “Post-Resurrection Appearances” posts. Looking at these Scriptures again has helped me realize anew that the first disciples experienced “Easter” as an extended season of experiences with the Risen Christ.

  16. Clay Knick says:

    We paint the church red….well not really. We use red flowers, red art (creative artists in the church), red altar paraments, red stole, and suggest everyone wear something red. And there are red banners with Pentecost themed verses on them. The sermon is always about the Holy Spirit and follows the lectionary (this year the gospel lesson.)

    • According to the colors John saw when he seen the throne of God – Jasper was related to the Father – Carnelian(red) was associated with Jesus and Emerald was associated with the Holy Spirit. All the spectrum of color was represented, as the rainbow was obviously there, yet John focused on the above three.

  17. The churches I’m associated with celebrate it, but generally only by wearing red and things like that. For the congregation, it doesn’t seem to be a big deal. For one thing, Pentecost falls at a bad time of year, when summer vacations are starting.

    I do wonder why we don’t place the Holy Spirit on the same level as Christ and God. Could it be because the Holy Spirit has occasionally changed our understanding of scripture (eg slavery) and we are wary of that happening again?

  18. I love comparing pentecost to the Tower of Babel (Oh course I see the tower of Babel as”true Myth”) .
    – Babel had confused language \ pentecost had understanding
    -Babel had a lack of God \ Pentecost had God’s spirit rain down from heaven
    -Babel had humanity trying to work w/o God to bring earth to heaven \ Pentecost has God bringing heaven to earth
    -Babel had division \ Pentecost had unity
    it’s an amazing change in our relationship with —-Celebrate Pentecost!!! (& I would also give a shout out to the Ascension too!)
    Peace

    • And that would explain why the Tower of Babel story is an optional reading in the Lectionary for this Sunday.

  19. As a Catholic in a parish that assumes that you can sing the Salve Regina in Latin, Pentacost is celebrated with the parishners ask to wear red to Mass, as well as sing rather traditional hynns about the Holy Spirt. And the parish is having a Ministry fair, complete with food and entertainment for children after each Sunday Mass during the day. And sometimes the readings will be in different languages, ie Spanish or French Creole.

  20. Don’t forget that while Pentecost is the beginning of the Church, this year it is also the end of Lost. A lot of Christians are going to spend one hour in the morning glued to a church pew and four hours in the evening glued to their TV. (Please don’t ask where I’ll be. Or my pastor, judging by his bulletin messages.)

    My parish will be pulling out all the stops, at least for one Mass: Sung High Mass complete with smells and bells, something not attempted even at Christmas or Easter. No doubt there’ll red everywhere, though I may have to honor the Eastern Catholic in me and show up in green.

  21. I started paying more attention to Pentecost a couple of years ago as I started studying the Hebraic roots of Christianity. I blogged about some of the experiences and how I celebrated it that year it at the time. It was fascinating to learn what the traditional Jewish Scripture readings for that feast are and how they tie in with the experience of the disciples when they gathered in the Temple on that Pentecost after Jesus ascended. Among the more amazing ones is the reading in Ezekiel 3:12,
    “Then the Spirit lifted me up, and I heard behind me a loud rumbling sound—May the glory of the LORD be praised in his dwelling place!”

    But the concept of a Pentecost Sunday seems a little puzzling to me. Pentecost gets its name from the counting of the 50 days as prescribed by God. Biblically, the counting begins at Passover. It isn’t possible to count 50 days from either Good Friday or Resurrection Sunday and still end up on a Sunday for Pentecost, so where does the idea of counting come into play in modern Christianity or do those traditions that observe Pentecost as a Christian holiday just skip that whole aspect?

    • If you count Easter as day 1, then Pentecost is day 50 by my count.

      • MAJ Tony says:

        That’s how the Jews would do it, IIRC. For the same reason, Pascha (Easter) is the Third Day, with Good Friday being the First.

        • Tony,
          Passover isn’t tied to a specific day of the week, rather it is tied to the lunar cycle of the calendar as proscribed by God. Based on what you say here, Pentecost should always fall on a Saturday for the church reckoning. A quick look at a Jewish calendar will show that the day of Passover always falls one weekday ahead of Pentecost. That was the root of my question.

  22. Larhanya says:

    The church I attended a few years ago shared their building with a Korean congregation that met in the afternoons. Every Pentecost we had a shared service in which the English worship leaders and Korean worship leaders coordinated on songs that could be sung in both languages, and the pastors alternated years giving the sermon (which was translated into either Korean or English as needed during the service). It was always a really beautiful experience to be surrounded by people singing in two languages at once.

  23. David Cornwell says:

    To celebrate Pentecost our church will be very festive with a Dixieland style band featuring piano, acoustic bass, banjo, guitar, percussion, clarinet. trombone, and trumpet. Also the Sanctuary Singers will sing a number of anthems including “Precious Lord” “Nearer My God to Thee” and “Teach Me O Lord.” The congregation is being asked to wear red, orange, blue, yellow, or whatever else someone feels is appropriate.

    The sermon will be on Acts 2.

    There will also be baptisms and confirmations.

  24. MAJ Tony says:

    We had a guest diocesan priest, Fr. Hollowell, little more than a year ordained, celebrate both the Traditional Latin Extraordinary Form and English Ordinary Form Pentecost Masses. I think it was his first solo TLM, a Missa Cantata (sung Mass) using the 1962 Missal. He did okay (hard to compare to a priest who used to be an opera singer). BTW, Fr. H is also at once the Chaplain of Card. Ritter H.S. here in Indy, as well as an asst. football coach. Everything of course was in red. Red normally signifies the blood of martyrs in the RCC, but for pentecost it signifies the tongues of fire that came down upon the Apostles.

    Fr’s homily talked about the Holy Spirit and how it was NOT about moving Catholics away from Holy Tradition, unlike what some 60s-80s liberals in the Church want us to believe. He then compared the Holy Spirit to, of all things, Jet Fuel, which he later admits is a very imperfect comparison. The jet fuel comparison goes like this: His car wasn’t running right, so the mechanic burned out all the junk in the engine by running jet fuel throught the fuel system, much like the HS burns out impurities in the Church (people of God). One of those impurities is the idea that we can just do whatever we please with the Church’s liturgy, add this, delete this, change that, ignore this, as if it were some merely human device.

  25. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    The songs just aren’t as catchy as those Christmas tunes. Easter baskets can’t trump presents under the tree. The Easter Bunny vs. Santa Claus? You gotta be kiddin’ me, it’s no contest.

    Maybe the Easter Bunny needs an Extreme Makeover… :)