Pentecost: God's Spirit Poured Upon the Church

June 6th, 2011

Send out invitations, order the cake, get out the party favors, and strike up the band—the church is having a birthday! Tell everyone to wear red, for it is the Day of Pentecost, the birth of the church, and the celebration of the Holy Spirit.

Imagine entering to the sound of brass fanfare and glorious music filling the sanctuary, children waving red streamers, and the worship leaders processing through the crowd. The Paschal Candle leads the procession, followed by the cross, the Bible, and the elements of Holy Communion, placed on the altar and received as gifts.

Worship on Pentecost has many possibilities for the church. It is the great climax of the Easter-Pentecost season, for on this day we realize and remember the fullness of God’s promise in Jesus Christ, which has been the theme throughout Lent, Holy Week, and Easter. Many congregations choose to celebrate Pentecost with a festive common meal, baptisms, baptism renewal, Confirmation, and the Lord’s Supper. Regardless of worship choices, the service should focus as a witness to God who has “poured out his Spirit upon all flesh” (Acts 2:17).

Pentecost is believed to be the oldest festival in the church, dating back to the first century. The early Christians adapted the Jewish Feast of Weeks, which occurs fifty days after the Passover, commemorating Hebrew freedom from Egyptian bondage and the giving of the Ten Commandments to Moses. Today, among Christian churches, Pentecost is most often celebrated fifty days after Easter, ten days after the Ascension (see Acts 1:6-11).

The story of Pentecost comes from Acts 2:1-42, as 120 worshipers, including the disciples, were fasting and praying in an upper room in Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit descended upon them in a violent rushing wind. Small flames of fire rested upon their heads, and they began to speak in other languages. As crowds came to investigate the commotion, the apostle Peter spoke to them about Jesus and exhorted them to repent. From the crowd of Jews and converts, three thousand heard his message, were baptized, and became followers of Jesus.

Pentecost is a time of renewal for Christian believers. Through studying the story of Pentecost, many seek and pray for spiritual gifts for the church during this time of holy celebration. There is a renewed focus on evangelism, empowerment from the Holy Spirit, deeper intimacy with God, and fellowship. For Christians, the celebration of Pentecost imparts faith, hope, a sharing of community, and an awareness of a purpose much greater than ourselves.

Regarding scripture and sermon preparation, worship should include a retelling of the historical narrative of that noisy day among the Christian believers. As the text suggests, perhaps the sermon could focus on the question, “What does this mean?” (Acts 2:12). The service should explore the significance of the coming of the Holy Spirit to those who follow Jesus. God’s Spirit empowers the believers for the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ, for a united and distinctive understanding God’s message, and for the inclusion of all people within the church. In keeping with the emphases of the day, perhaps those planning worship might find individuals who could read the text aloud in several different languages.

Other scripture texts appropriate for Pentecost include passages from the Gospel of John, Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, and the book of Revelation. All readings should direct the worshiper to consider how God’s Spirit is manifest in the congregation and in the world.

Indeed, Pentecost Sunday is a day to celebrate hope, a hope born by the knowledge that God through the Holy Spirit is at work in the church. The church’s birthday calls us to consider our purpose, mission, and work as God’s people. Yet this calling is not a sober reflective time, (remember, we did that in Lent), but rather a grand and glorious gathering with smiles and laughter and praises to God!

Let’s have a party!

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