He told them to wait.
Wait for who?
Every time I read the account of the first Pentecost, I’m struck by the fact that Jesus’ followers had no clear picture of exactly who or what they were waiting for. But the risen Messiah told them to wait, so that’s exactly what they did.
On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1:4-5)
There was context for his words. They were smack-dab in the middle of counting the Omer, numbering in prayer each day between the pilgrim feasts of Passover and Shavuot. Those feasts were two of the three times each year the Chosen People needed to present themselves as one in Jerusalem at the Temple. (The third was the fall feast of Sukkot.) Jesus’ words to them reflected the fact that they were going to be in Jerusalem for the Shavuot. I’ll be covering Shavuot in more detail next month, as it will begin this year at sunset on June 11th.
However, the Western Church will be celebrating the event that happened on the first Shavuot after Jesus’ resurrection this Sunday, May 15th. The Eastern (Orthodox) Church will be marking Pentecost this year on June 19th.
The Jewish festal cycle and the Christian calendar each offer holidays that are meant to serve as an on-ramp into the intersection of time and eternity. These moments and days point us beyond our own everyday agendas and connect us with our place in a bigger, more beautiful story. I’ve been blogging a 5-minute intro to each major holiday and season in both the Hebrew and Christian calendars. Today, I’m offering an overview of the feast day of Pentecost. This celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church ends the Easter season and inaugurates the long calendar period of Ordinary Time. (I’ll be covering Ordinary Time in a subsequent post.)
Before his arrest, Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would be sent to his followers. Fifty days after Jesus was crucified, God immersed them in the resurrection life of Jesus, filling them as he’d once filled the Holy of Holies in the Temple and supernaturally empowering them to proclaim his glorious grace.
Pentecost is drawn from the Greek word pentekostos, which means fifty. It references the fifty day period between Passover and Shavuot.
Pentecost had a place on the yearly Christian calendar from the second century. Pasche, the observance of the resurrection, was the name for the entire fifty-day period between Easter Sunday and Pentecost Sunday. By end of third century, Pentecost was the name given to the final feast day of the fifty days. Over time, a liturgy and an eight-day vigil leading up to Pentecost formed around the day. These holy days were second only to Easter in importance for early believers.
Because the date of Pentecost is calculated based on the date of Easter via the lunar cycle, the earliest date in the Western church for Pentecost is May 10th, and the latest date is June 13th. In these churches, Pentecost Sunday became an alternate day for baptisms for those who could not be baptized on Easter.
Pentecost is directly tied to the date in which Easter is celebrated each year. It’s considered a “moveable feast” as it is not anchored to the Julian/Gregorian calendar. Because the date of Pentecost is calculated based on the date of Easter via the lunar cycle, the earliest date in the Western church for Pentecost is May 10th, and the latest date is June 13th. In these churches, Pentecost Sunday became an alternate day for baptisms for those who could not be baptized on Easter.
Pentecost had a place on the yearly Christian calendar from the second century. Pasche, the observance of the resurrection, was the first name for the entire fifty-day period between Easter Sunday and Pentecost Sunday. By end of third century, Pentecost was the name given to the final feast day of the fifty days.
Paul uses the language of Shavuot, the Jewish festival with a focus on offering of the first fruits of the new wheat crop, to speak about the resurrection of Jesus to his friends at Corinth:
If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. (1 Corinthians 15:19-26)
God gave the Holy Spirit was given to the Church so we’d be empowered to do the kingdom works Jesus did: proclaiming good news to the poor, freedom to prisoners, recovery of sight to the blind, and setting the oppressed free. Acts 2 baptism with tongues of fire – a reversal of Babel’s confusion and shattered community – that set free the community of believers to live their birthright as children of the King.
Liturgical churches use the tried-and-true order of service for Pentecost Sunday. (Here’s a link to a selection of liturgical prayers for the day.) Low-church (churches that don’t use a formal liturgy for corporate worship) Charismatics and Pentecostals seek to live in Pentecost’s reality every day, thus, they don’t tend to mark the day. Those from other low-church traditions interested in celebrating the gift of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the big C Church may find some inspiration for service planning here.
And for all of us, Audrey Assad’s achingly lovely prayer, Spirit Of The Living God
Coming September 1 – the Jewish feasts, the Christian calendar – and why both are so essential to shaping our lives. Pre-order your copy now from Amazon, Christian Book Distributors, Barnes and Noble, or NavPress.