Since mid-March, we have been counting the days between Easter and Pentecost. The days mark off the time between the last chapter of a gospel and the first chapter of the book of Acts. Traditionally Pentecost is seen as the day of the beginning of the church, but it is often the most overlooked holy day on the Christian calendar. This year May 31st marks the remembrance of the day of Pentecost.
But if the day is so important, why is it so easily forgotten? Years do that to us, don’t they? Recall how we memorialized 911 the year after? Will we do more than pause on September 11th this year? What about D-Day? Do you know now what it remembers? We may know what Pearl Harbor Day reflects upon, but we may not remember what 50 days after the resurrection of Jesus, saw astonishing events that are important to the life and history of the church. Let’s consider a handful of things we should know about the day.
First, Pentecost reminds us of where we have been. The name Pentecost comes from the Greek word for “fiftieth,” reflecting the number of days past Easter. But the day was a time of celebration in the Old Testament. In Jewish circles, the day is known as Shavu’ ot, the Hebrew word for “weeks.” It was a harvest festival, signifying the end of the grain harvest. Deuteronomy 16 states, “You shall count seven weeks; begin to count the seven weeks from the time you first put the sickle to the standing grain.”
But the day represented more than that to the Jewish people. More than 3300 years ago, God gave the Law to Moses – the Ten Commandments – on Mount Sinai. Every year on the holiday of Shavuot, the Jewish people renew their acceptance of God’s gift of His Word, the Torah. The Law was given to the people seven weeks after their exodus from Egypt. Many faithful stay up the night reading the first five books of the Hebrew Bible.
Perhaps more than most years, Pentecost 2020 should remind us of where America – indeed, the entire world – has been in the last 50 days. The first Sunday that most churches in America shut down for corporate worship was March 15th. By rough count, May 31st will be the 79th day since the activities of life ceased or changed.
Next, Pentecost urges us to remember how we have to change. On the handful of days leading up to March 15th, religious leaders first began altering, then cancelling, the gathering of people together to access rituals and traditions that for millions are as vital as the evening meal. Houses of worship closing meant empty confession booths. The sacraments of the church – communion, baptisms, marriages, even burials – could not be properly officiated and were postponed. The 10-person quorum required by Judaism for certain key prayers, including the one mourners recite for the dead, could not be uttered.
And for the religious who are less strict with their rituals, there was the absence of a time set aside to make them feel holy. Going forward, the leaders would have to determine how the truth of the traditions could be maintained in a more sterile, more secure environment. Can we hover and not touch?
Remember what you and your family have been through these last months. What will you take with you from these days? After the first sermon was preached, the people shouted to Peter and the other disciples, “What do we need to do now?” Their answer, “Repent and be baptized,” was simple, yet profound. Change first, then respond.
Third, Pentecost reminds us to know our story. Peter’s message on Pentecost should be how we tell others about Christianity. “This is what God has the prophet Joel say (Acts 2:16 CEV) … Now listen to what I have to say about Jesus from Nazareth. God proved that he sent Jesus to you by having him work miracles, wonders and signs. All of you know this” (Acts 2:22 CEV). Here is what God said He was going to do and here is what He did – in Jesus’ life and in mine.
Fundamental to a day that remembers when God gave His words on Mt. Sinai and His Word, His Son, in a manger, is the notion that God is not finished speaking. The hymn-writer sang, “Tell me the old, old story; of unseen things above,” not that I might staple more pages after Revelation in my Bible, but that I might sketch them on the pages of my heart.
Finally, Pentecost gives us hope. One of the reasons celebrating Pentecost is such a grand thing is because it gives us hope. Fifty days earlier, Jewish religious leaders were placing a crucified Jesus in a tomb secured by Roman soldiers. Fifty days earlier, the closest followers of this Rabbi from Galilee were scattered like dust by the wind, afraid to meet together, afraid to come out of hiding. Fifty days earlier, it appeared the movement of God’s faithful had come to a screeching halt.
But since the 50 days, this rag-tag group of believers had seen the resurrected Lord. No longer afraid to admit belief, these same men now asked challenging questions and pointed to important conclusions. These disciples insisted that a wrong had been committed, and that God – not men – would do something about it.
This year for Pentecost, take some time to read from the second chapter of the book of Acts. Wrangle with what God was able to accomplish with less than the best of circumstances and fewer than two hundred people. Envision that He could do the same thing with our pandemic predicament. Experience the joy, hope and encouragement that God provides for Pentecost people.