Day of Pentecost
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
1 Corinthians 12:3b-13
For those who know me, my preaching tends to be more about history and traditions of the church than the others who preach here at St. Mark’s. This sermon talk will be no different.
The Christian holiday of Pentecost, on the fiftieth day after Easter, commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and other followers of Jesus Christ while they were in Jerusalem celebrating the Feast of Weeks. Some Christians believe this event represents the birth of the Church.
In early Judaism, the Festival of Weeks was a harvest festival that was celebrated seven weeks after the beginning of the harvest or seven weeks after the Sabbath. Counting both the first and last days, it is "fifty days" from the day after Passover Sabbath to the day after the Pentecost Sabbath. The fiftieth day was known as the Festival of Weeks.
The date of Pentecost depends upon the date of Easter—it is, therefore, called a moveable feast.
So, what symbols or traditions have you seen or we have followed over the years in our church to celebrate Pentecost?
Color Red—decorating the church (vestments, people’s clothes, flowers, hangings)
Dove/fire or flames—symbolizing the Holy Spirit
Pentecost Reading—read in different languages by our people
Pentecost Cake—for the birth of the Church
Asperging of the people after renewing our baptismal vows
How about this one (which we don’t have here!)--In the Middle Ages, cathedrals and great churches throughout Western Europe were fitted with a peculiar architectural feature known as a Holy Ghost hole: a small circular opening in the roof that symbolized the entrance of the Holy Spirit into the midst of the congregation. At Pentecost, these Holy Ghost holes would be decorated with flowers, and sometimes a dove figure lowered through into the church while the narrative of Pentecost was read. Holy Ghost holes can still be seen today in European churches such as Canterbury Cathedral.
Or this--a large two dimensional dove figure would be, and in some places still is, cut from wood, painted, and decorated with flowers, to be lowered over the congregation, particularly during the singing of the sequence hymn, or Veni Creator Spiritus. In other places, rose petals were and are thrown from the galleries over the congregation, recalling the tongues of fire. In modern times, this practice has been revived, and interestingly adapted as well, to include the strewing of origami doves from above or suspending them, sometimes by the hundreds, from the ceiling.
Or even this--red fans, or red handkerchiefs are distributed to the congregation to be waved during the procession, etc. Other congregations have incorporated the use of red balloons, signifying the "Birthday of the Church". These may be borne by the congregants, decorate the sanctuary, or released all at once. (We have done this, with the balloons!)
Holy Communion is likewise often a feature of the Protestant observance of Pentecost as well. It is one of the relatively few Sundays some Reformed denominations may offer the communion meal, and is one of the days of the year specially appointed among Moravians for the celebration of their Love Feasts. Ordinations are celebrated across a wide array of Western denominations at Pentecost, or near to it. Even if an ordination or consecration is not celebrated on Pentecost, the liturgical color will invariably be red, and the theme of the service will be the Holy Spirit.
There are some really great messages and themes that come forcefully from our 1st reading today from Acts 2, describing that Pentecost scene in Jerusalem. Remember that it was their celebration of the Festival of Weeks, so there were a few thousand people there from all over: “And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.”
One message I found came from David R. Henson, an Episcopal priest in California: “The God of Pentecost doesn’t have an official language. This is the shocking revelation of the day of Pentecost, but one often lost amid the day’s more bombastic metaphors of rushing winds, descending doves and intoxicated disciples with tongues touched by fire. In a country with a history of suppressing other languages in the name of unity and imperialism and in a nation where some still push English-only legislation, this is the message of Pentecost we need to hear. Because Pentecost, at its fiery heart, is not only about language, but it is also an act of divine rebellion through language. It is the windswept protest of a borderless God, standing against humanity’s misguided preference for the empty language of the powerful. In Pentecost, God speaks against humanity’s tendency to force unity through sameness and exclusivity, to conflate righteousness with homogeneity, to demand people conform to arbitrary standards of respectability and to do it all in God’s holy name.”
Our 1st Corinthians reading is classic and well known, talking about the Spirit and how it works in all of us. God’s Spirit promotes our individual gifts. “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 1to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”
For all who will hear it—Pentecost has a message of inclusion and acceptance at its very best!
Our former Canon for Stewardship Lance Ousley said it well, that feeling about the Holy Spirit: “There is a great peace that washes over us like a warm breeze on a cool summer night knowing that we all are loved by God and valued and empowered in Christ's mission to spread the good news of God's love to people of every family, language, people and nation. This peace also fills us in the knowledge that we are not going it alone. We have both the gift of the Spirit with us and our fellow sisters and brothers working together as one Body. I believe this is the peace that Jesus breathed on his disciples in the Upper Room as he empowered each of them with the gift of the Holy Spirit to do is work in the world. This is a peace we know as good stewards of our own Spiritual gifts exercising them for the mission of the Church. It also is the peace we are inspired to share with all as we include and encourage them in exercising stewardship of their Spiritual gifts all of us together reaching "to the ends of the earth" for the common good.”