In Praise of Pentecost

People often tell me I’m a little bit off (maybe a little nuts) when I tell them that the 2nd most important celebration in the Christian calendar isn’t Christmas. Some of you might be thinking, “Well, of course, Christmas is #1.”  Not so. Resurrection Day is #1 with a bullet (that’s for you Top 40 radio fans).
So then, if you read the title of this musing, you’ve likely determined that I would argue for Pentecost as #2. Stick with me while I build a case.
Let me preface by saying that regional traditions that depart from the historical narrative while maintaining the spirit of things are quite alright. But, let’s take note of a few things:
First, #1 is Resurrection Day, not Easter. Why? Because Resurrection Day (and the 6-day Passion story which precedes and with Resurrection accounts for more than a quarter of the Gospels) is the earth shattering, death conquering, history hanging event. The early Church saw it as so inextricable from their daily life that they celebrated it every Sunday. This led to Sunday supplanting Saturday as the Christ – centered holy day in most traditions. The annual remembrance attached to the Passover was a bonus remembrance. The idea of relegating the commemoration of what would become the crux of human history to a once a year dress up spectacled would never have crossed  their minds. Resurrection is #1. Even the mythical cross – species fertility spectacle of Easter can’t take it down (but that’s another story for another day). So, then what of Christmas?
Well, here’s the thing. Despite the attachment of His title, the modern celebration (with implications of winter and evergreens and candles and naughty and nice lists) bears strikingly little resemblance to, nor sticks to the spirit of the real event; the fulfillment of the arrival of God’s new covenant as prophesied for centuries to bring the blessing of the children of Abraham to all peoples. The Birth. God come near. Kingdom drawing close. Grace defeats karma. These are huge. No one of faith can successfully argue otherwise. But December 25th and all the unrelated trappings abuse the story so fiercely and unashamedly, it’s hard to reconcile it with what actually occurred. For these reasons, while the birth of Jesus is a very strong #2 (the Luke 2, Linus tells the story understanding), Christmas must drop to #3.
Which now brings us to the praise of Pentecost, the most neglected and least understood of Christianity’s high holy days. First, Pentecost (50th) has deep roots in the faith. Back in Deuteronomy when God was shaping His chosen people to bless the world, He commanded a festival 49 + 1 day following the first harvest of grain. In the year of Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection, Pentecost was deepened and gave birth to the Church.  Pentecost has been spared most modern legends and other accoutrement and thus remains closest to the historical story.
Perhaps that’s why we neglect it. It was about 50 days after the crucifixion, 10 days after the Ascension, and 120 faithful believers where gathered in a 24/7 prayer and worship gathering when suddenly the promised Holy Spirit showed up and filled them. Amazing signs of wind and fire and the breaking down of language barriers brought 3000 to faith in a single day. The Church was born.
God reigns in heaven. In Christ, god came near; close enough to walk and talk with and touch. Then at Pentecost, the Spirit came to live within believer.  Never before in human history did the whole of the body of believers have access to such closeness with God. It may be hard for us to grasp, but human capacity to discern God’s will was transformed on that day. Prior to Pentecost, most of the world could not hope to have intimate knowledge of God. Now, when we live by the grace of Christ, we can. Now, by the Holy Spirit working in us, our spirit’s can agree with God; our soul, heart, mind, and body can be made new. Pentecost is the day this promise of Christ was made reality. The new birth. Now and forever. That’s the reason I write in praise of Pentecost. Join us this Sunday morning at 10am as we celebrate.