Pentecost and Other Neglected Holy Days

Pentecost and Other Neglected Holy Days June 3, 2022

Sunday is Pentecost, following close upon Ascension Day last Thursday.  Both mark extraordinarily important events for Christians, but both seem to have fallen in some neglect.

Why is that?

My fellow Patheos blogger Faith J. H. McDonnell offered some reasons that might apply to both holidays in her post Mark Pearson Explores Why the Ascension is Neglected.  She is reviewing a book by Pearson, a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church, entitled Fifty Days of Glory: From Easter Morning to the Eve of Pentecost.

One of the reasons they give for the neglect of Ascension Day could apply also to Pentecost:  “There is no secular parallel culture of it such as with Santa or the Easter Bunny.”  Could be!  That could explain why other Christian feasts have caught on outside the church, to the point that the secular observance overshadows the religious meaning beyond recognition, as in Halloween and St. Valentine’s Day.

Other factors may be more obvious.  There is, of course, the erasure of much of the Church Year by  non-liturgical Protestants.  Also, Ascension Day always falls on a weekday, so it takes a special church service (as we had, joining in with other area Lutheran congregations).  Pentecost, though, falls on the 50th day from Easter, so it is always on a Sunday, which may account for it being somewhat more prominent.

I wonder, though, if the deeper reason may be that these holidays are both so misunderstood.

Rev. Pearson has some good things to say on the subject  (“Is the Ascension ignored because ‘it is clearly about Christ and not, at least in an obvious way, about me?'”).  He also suggests a major misunderstanding:  “‘Or maybe, says Pearson, we don’t ‘celebrate’ the Ascension because it would be celebrating Jesus leaving us.”

Huh?  The Ascension of Christ is the occasion of His promise and what makes it possible: “behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).   With the Son of God taking His place within the Holy Trinity, He really can be present everywhere–not just in 1st century Galilee but everywhere and in every time, including our own day.  The Ascension is not about Christ’s absence but about His presence, which we can experience intimately today in His Word and Sacraments.

Rev. Pearson also seems to have a misunderstanding himself when we says that with Jesus’ departure with the Ascension, Christians now must focus on the Holy Spirit rather than just the work of Christ.  Well, such a view emerges from Rev. Pearson’s charismatic theology.  But the Ascension is surely the ultimate exaltation of Christ, who, as St. Paul says, “ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things” (Ephesians 4:10).

Pentecost is about the Holy Spirit.  Perhaps it is somewhat more appreciated, to use Rev. Pearson’s words, because it is, seemingly, about us.  But I think this event is misunderstood also.  For example, “Pentecostal” Christians use the account of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit to make the case for speaking in tongues as the sign of a “spirit baptism.”  But surely the whole point of the miracle at Pentecost, as described in Acts 2, is that the tongues are intelligible.  The apostles preached to the multi-lingual crowd, and despite the language barriers, every one understood what they were hearing, namely, the Word of God.  “How is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?” (Acts 2:8).  Furthermore, the Word of God is how the Holy Spirit comes to us and communicates with us today.  And the work of the Holy Spirit is to reveal Christ (John 15:26), creating faith in our hearts by convicting us of sin and conveying the gospel of Christ’s atonement (John 16:7-11).

Pentecost is considered the birthday of the church.  And, indeed, this is the day that the Holy Spirit comes “with power” (Luke 24:49) and the timid disciples stopped cowering and began spreading the Gospel throughout the world.  This is certainly the supernatural power that the church needs today.  So that’s an especially good reason to observe Pentecost now with God’s Word and with prayer.



Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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