This past Sunday we celebrated Pentecost. Often we tout Pentecost as the “birthday of the church.” This is a great image and an easy way to connect kids with the concept that the coming of the Holy Spirit marked a special event in the life of those who follow Christ. On the other hand, this birthday image can fall short. There is more to Pentecost than what our contemporary birthday celebrations mean.
I have heard more than one person say at the occasion of a birthday, “Congratulations, you survived another year.” Birthdays mark a chronological advancement, but Pentecost is more than the fact that the Church has made it through another year of Christmas, Easter, Sunday School and all the rest of the things we do in our life together.
The first Pentecost experience was a critical event that not only fulfilled Jesus’ prophesy, but also transformed those whom he called to be his followers. In the days following the crucifixion, we know what happened. Doubt, fear and denial were rampant, even after Jesus visited the disciples. Jesus had brought the disciples to both a figurative and literal mountain top, and once he was ascended, he knew that they would fall back into the sinful behaviors. Thus, he reminds them more than once that they will not be left alone in this world, but that God will provide another presence to help them along the way. The Holy Spirit is an often misunderstood, and perhaps maligned, aspect of the Trinity. Yet, if we think about what Jesus said, it should be the most comfortable and accessible aspect.
The Spirit of comfort, advocacy, and power that we are promised should empower us to follow Jesus more fully. Yet, time after time, I hear folks just say, “I don’t get it.” Herein lies the problem. For far too long we have approached the Spirit of God with an Enlightenment sensibility. We want to understand and study the Spirit. This methodology is all wrong. Scripture doesn’t provide us examples of the Spirit’s interactions that tell of an occurrence that can be dissected. Rather, it is an experience. Spirit wind blowing over the chaos of creation can’t be bottled and studied, it simply is. Pentecost was and still should be an experience for us to have, not an occasion to mark.
Secondly, Pentecost isn’t a one day event that occurs like an annual birthday. Yes, in the liturgical calendar we have one day that we call Pentecost. This truly does a disservice to our experience of the Spirit. We need to be continually reminded that we are Pentecost Christians. Perhaps it’s because there is a stream of the Christian tradition that calls themselves Pentecostals, which practices their religious life in markedly different ways, that we shy away from thinking of ourselves as people of the Pentecost or people of the Spirit. Nevertheless, we are people of the Spirit. If we are truly Christ’s Body in the world, we must affirm that the Holy Spirit has true power in the world and our individual lives.
The Acts account of the Pentecost gives us a glimpse of why it’s so important. Through the first experience of the Spirit’s power at the Pentecost, many wonderful things begin to happen. As the Spirit claims the lives of those gathered, they are: united, emboldened, and gathered people. The people were brought to “one accord” by the Spirit. As we see in Peter’s actions, they began to be bold in their proclamation of Christ. Perhaps the one thing that we forget is that the Spirit gathered a crowd. As the exciting experience of the Spirit occurred, people from all over the city came to see what is happening.
These principles are still at work in our lives today. The church and it’s individual members are still being empowered by the Spirit. My question for you today is, how is the Holy Spirit working in your life? How do you experience the Spirit? What Gifts do you see falling upon you?