Preparing for Pentecost

April 23rd, 2013

Pentecost, the birthday of the church, is a wonderful time to celebrate and involve children in learning.

Pentecost is a "movable feast" of the church. Like Easter, Pentecost occurs on a different date each year. The word "pentecost" comes from Greek, and means "fiftieth day." It occurs on the fiftieth day after Easter and, in the church, it is known as the last of the Great Fifty Days. The Great Fifty Days begin at sunset on Easter Eve (the evening before Easter) and end on the evening of Pentecost Day. If you have used an Easter (Paschal) candle, Pentecost is the last day on which it will be lit during ordinary worship.

During the Great Fifty Days we in the church focus on Christ's resurrection, his many appearances to his followers, and then on his ascension. With Pentecost we celebrate the birthday of the Church and the presence of the Holy Spirit as described in Acts 2. Pentecost reminds us that the Holy Spirit brings life to the church. From that first Pentecost the church grew out from Jerusalem into all the world. The Holy Spirit is part of God from the beginning, before creation.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, Pentecost was celebrated in connection with the harvest and, later, with the giving of the law on Mount Sinai (the Ten Commandments). With the Christian celebration of Pentecost, the freedom Jesus gives us through the Spirit is contrasted with the old life under the law.

When you read the story of Pentecost from Acts 2:1-6 (older children should read through verse 11), emphasize that the importance of the different languages is that each person could hear about "God's deeds of power" in their own language. It was like the "simultaneous translation" that goes on at the United Nations or other important international conferences. If you have a good map of New Testament times, older children might look up the different countries mentioned in verses 9-11.

Red Tells the Story

The color for Pentecost is red, and actually might be a fire red, or red with an orange cast for the tongues of flame or flames of fire that represent the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:3. During the week before Pentecost encourage children to wear red for Pentecost. Have red streamers ready for "neckties" or "necklaces" for those who forget.

Symbols Speak Louder than Words

There are a variety of symbols for Pentecost which can be gathered for altar settings or used in crafts with children of various ages. The Spirit appears as the wind over the waters of creation (Genesis 1:2) and as a descending dove at Jesus' baptism (Mark 1:10).

Symbols for the church include a ship (like Noah's ark) and the rainbow sign of God's covenant. The ceilings of many older sanctuaries were made to look like the inside of the hull of a ship. Danish churches and churches with sailors often included a model ship hanging in the middle of the sanctuary. The use of the ship reminds us that we are saved by God (as in the Noah story) and that as the church we are in this together. The rainbow reminds us not only of the covenant with Noah, but also of the beauty and variety of God's creation, including the varieties of persons welcome in our churches as God's children.

Red flowers, such as geraniums, might be planted or placed around the sanctuary, the children's worship center, or around the church (with a warning to come in "digging" clothes).

Learning the Vocabulary

Discussion could center around the names and images for the Holy Spirit, adding more for the older children, less for the younger. These words and images include: Breath of God, Dove, Wind, Fire, Comforter, Counselor, Wisdom, and God's Presence.

Older children may be interested to know that "Whitsunday" is the word used for Pentecost in England (they may run across it in British books they read). They can also learn the Hebrew word for spirit, "ruach," pronounced with the accent on the first syllable. "Paraclete" is another word for the Holy Spirit, being the Greek word used often in the Gospel of John.

Singing Pentecost Songs

Avery and Marsh's song, "I Am the Church" is good to use on Pentecost. Teach younger children the refrain with motions. At the word "I," point to self. At the word "you," point to a partner. At the word "we," shake hands with self or partner. At the word "Jesus," spread arms to include all disciples. At the word "world," make large circles with arms. At the word "together," shake hands with self or partner. Older children can sing the verses that talk about the church, with stanza 5 specifically about Pentecost.

Another song about the Spirit which children love to sing and act out is the African American spiritual "I'm Goin' a Sing When the Spirit Says Sing." Fold hands for the stanza with "pray"; let the children shout on the "shout" stanza; add stanzas for stand, march, sit, clap.

Older elementary children might consider the various words associated with the Spirit, such as those found in the third stanza of Thomas Troeger's "Source and Sovereign, Rock and Cloud." Those children who prefer to read might call out the words slowly while the more adventurous act out storm, stillness, thunder. comfort, and so on. These children might also respond to the Native American "Prayer to the Holy Spirit." If older children have been to church camp or vacation Bible school, they may know the song "Pass It On," which starts with the image of a spark of fire growing, much like the early church started and grew with Pentecost.

Pentecost: A Day of Many Celebrations

Pentecost is also a day of baptism and confirmation in many churches. If your church is celebrating in that way, you might include discussion about God's gift of baptism and our acceptance of that gift for ourselves (in some churches that will be at confirmation).

Pentecost is also a great day for a mission project. Plan a church day of service in your community. Take gifts symbolizing Pentecost to share with those who are homebound, in nursing homes, or those in the hospital. Remind the children that, like the early church, we are spreading out to tell of God's love.

The end of the school year is a busy time in many churches and homes. Don't let Pentecost get lost in your church and in your Sunday school!

0 God of wind and fire, we praise your name.
Send the strength of your Holy Spirit on your church today.

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