"When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting." Acts 2:1-2
More Than Party Planning
For churches, Pentecost preparation sometimes seems more like party planning than Christian formation. Are there enough speakers to read in a different language? Do we have enough cake plates? What if the red frosting gets on someone's alb? If it's raining, can we blow bubbles in the sanctuary? ...You get the idea. But Pentecost is more than a set of customs. Below is some background, meaning, and points to keep in mind when teaching Pentecost.
The Meaning of Pentecost
Pentecost literally means "fiftieth day." As a Jewish religious celebration, it first marked the fifty days after Passover with a harvest festival. Pentecost also commemorated the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai. This moment still celebrated in the Jewish tradition as Shavuot.
In the Christian tradition, Pentecost marks the end of the 50 Days of Easter. Acts 2 describes how the apostles and friends were gathered together in Jerusalem. Suddenly there is a great rushing of wind, and tongues of fire rest on each of the apostles. They begin to speak in different languages, and the crowds around them – Jews from across the diaspora having come to Jerusalem for the Festival of Weeks – understand them. It was at this moment that Peter stood up and preached, revealing the will of God in Jesus Christ, as prophesied by Joel, and affirming a continual outpouring of the Holy Spirit through repentance and Baptism.
3 Teaching Points for Pentecost
1. It Is the 'Birth Day' of the Church
Pentecost was a turning point. Before that moment, the apostles were a group of followers who had listened to Jesus and assisted in his ministry. But without Jesus, they were aimless and confused. That all changed on Pentecost. After the Holy Spirit entered the room, and after Peter preached, the apostles no longer looked inward. Filled with the Holy Spirit – the spirit of Jesus – they looked out and forward as ministers.
The end of Acts 2 records how the apostles devoted themselves to teaching and to fellowship; to performing wonders and signs; and giving to others in need. It is no wonder that the Lord "added to their number daily those who were saved"! The Holy Spirit gave the apostles direction and power to form the Christian community, which would become the Church. It is in this sense that Pentecost can be called a birth day.
2. Pentecost Showcases the Trinity
Christian theology is grounded in a doctrine of three in one, the Holy Trinity: often described as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Pentecost was a big Trinity moment! The Father sends the Spirit to make the Son present. On Pentecost we can teach and celebrate the Trinity.
3. Jesus Kept His Promise
In Matthew 28:20 Jesus told his followers, "I will be with you always, even until the end of the age." He promptly ascended into heaven, and his followers could no longer see him. What gives? Well, in John 15:26 Jesus promised, "I will send you the Advocate – the Spirit of truth. He will come to you from the Father and will testify all about me" (NLT). When the Holy Spirit moves, Jesus is present through that Holy Spirit. So it is that Pentecost marks the fulfillment of Christ's promise.
Matthew Kozlowski and Charlotte Greeson are the co-editors of Building Faith, and associates at the Center for the Ministry of Teaching at Virginia Theological Seminary.
Featured image via pixabay, taken in the Konstantin Basilika in Trier Germany.