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On Pentecost, we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit after Jesus’ ascension. Chapter 2 of the Acts of the Apostles tells the story of the Holy Spirit descending on the disciples of Jesus like tongues of fire. Filled with the Holy Spirit, the disciples begin to speak in other languages. Those who are in Jerusalem hear the disciples speaking in their own native languages and are so amazed that 3,000 people are baptized that day!
My most memorable Pentecost involved an interesting variation on this story. When I was a young teen, my church acquired a dove kite with a tail of red ribbons. The dove, of course, is a frequent image of the Holy Spirit, and the red ribbons recalled the tongues of fire of the story. The dove was fastened to the end of a long, flexible pole so it could be gracefully flown over the congregation. That Pentecost, I had the privilege of flying the dove during the processional, which was great—until the clasp holding the dove came free and the dove literally descended on the congregation! Luckily, there were no injuries. In fact, the dove landed on a retired priest, who felt quite honored.
Pentecost, which means “the fiftieth day,” occurs fifty days after Easter and fulfills Jesus' promise given in Acts 1:8: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (NRSV). Thus, the speaking in many languages leads to witnessing in many lands, reversing the story of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) when many languages created confusion instead of communication. Pentecost is also the Greek name for the Jewish festival of Shavuot (“Weeks”), which occurs fifty days or 7 weeks—that is, a week of weeks—after the celebration of Passover. In the first century, Shavuot was a pilgrimage festival, meaning that all Jewish men were expected to return to Jerusalem for the celebration. This explains the crowd of people from different countries in Jerusalem in Acts 2. This is the crowd that witnesses the gift of the Holy Spirit, hears Peter’s first sermon—all in their own language, and is moved to be baptized. And it is after receiving the Holy Spirit at Pentecost that the disciples go out to spread the good news of God in Christ. For these reasons, Pentecost is sometimes considered the birthday of the Church.
Historically, Pentecost was when new members were welcomed into the church. Since it was a common Sunday for baptisms, Pentecost was sometimes called White Sunday, or Whitsunday, because of the white garments worn by the baptismal candidates. Today, many people choose to wear read, the liturgical color for Pentecost, to represent the Holy Spirit and the tongues of fire.
Here are some ways you can celebrate Pentecost at home:
Write a welcome card for a new neighbor or invite a friend to church.
Learn how to say a prayer in another language. (Here is the Lord’s Prayer in many different languages)
Bake a birthday cake for the Church and share it with others.
Grace and peace, Annemarie