Pentecost is the day that the church was born. Christ was crucified, rose again, spent forty days with his disciples, then ascended to heaven. Pentecost immediately followed. For two millennia, Christians have been celebrating the church’s birthday with joy and exuberance. Pentecost takes place 50 days after Easter Sunday. Here’s how it all got started.
Background of Pentecost
Believed to be the oldest feast in the Church, the story of Pentecost dates back to the first century A.D. The feast of Pentecost coincided with the Jewish Feast of Weeks, which occurs 50 days after the Passover (Deuteronomy 16:10). According to Jewish tradition, the Ten Commandments were given to Moses 50 days after the first Passover, which freed the Hebrews from their bondage in Egypt. As the Hebrews settled into Canaan, the feast became a time to honour the Lord for blessing the fruits of their labours. At the time of Jesus, the festival focused on rabbinical law and traditions. Since this Jewish holiday took place at the same time of the Pentecost, many Jewish Christians appropriated its celebration into their Christian commemoration of the coming of the Spirit.
Story of Pentecost
According to book of Acts, the Church came into being on the day of Pentecost. As 120 worshippers, including the Disciples, were fasting and praying in an upper room in Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit descended upon them in a violent rushing wind that was heard throughout the city. Small flames of fire rested upon their heads, and they began to speak in other languages. As crowds came to investigate the commotion, the Apostle Peter spoke to them about Jesus and exhorted them to repent. From the crowd of Jews and converts, 3,000 realized the truth of his words and became followers of Jesus.
There are many Pentecost traditions. In some churches, baptisms are performed throughout the day. Pentecost is also known as Whitsunday, because of the white garments worn by those who are baptised. In most Pentecost services, priests or church officials wear red vestments. Sanctuaries are decorated with banners depicting flames, wind, and doves. Churches in Italy disperse rose petals from the ceiling to symbolize the tongues of fire described in the book of Acts. French churches blow trumpets throughout the service to suggest the Holy Spirit coming with a violent rushing wind. Both Protestant and Roman Catholic services have scripture readings from the books of Isaiah, Ezekiel, Joel and Acts.
The purest meaning of Pentecost is that of a time of renewal for Christian believers. There is a renewed focus on evangelism, empowerment from the Holy Spirit, deeper intimacy with God, and fellowship. For Christians, the celebration of Pentecost imparts faith, hope, a sharing of community, and an awareness of a purpose much greater than themselves.