By Chaplain Mike
There are four major holidays in the Christian Year:
- Good Friday
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 Weekâ€”if Spring Break (the real “holy week” for many in our culture) doesn’t interfereâ€”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?
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 workâ€”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 Egyptâ€”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, â€˜Know the Lordâ€™, 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 agesâ€”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?