Pentecost 2019

The Christian calendar is often confusing and the season of Easter is no exception. It must have been a very strange emotional roller coaster for the first generation of disciples. It is still a season of ups and downs for faithful Christians.

Here is how it goes. Jesus dies on Good Friday. Three days later, on Easter he rose from the dead. For 40 days, his disciples enjoyed the physical presence of the resurrected Christ. They ate with him, they listened to him teach. They touched him. Things were back to normal - almost. Then on the 40th day he ascended to heaven and left them behind. He promised the gift of the Holy Spirit, but nothing happened for ten more days. Then on the 50th day after easter, Pentecost, they experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit in dramatic and exciting ways as each was enabled to communicate in the languages of the hearers.

I have often spoken of Pentecost as the church’s very beginning as a multi-cultural, multi-lingual institution. I have also observed that there are plenty of examples from our history of times when the church forgot that multi-lingual, multi-cultural heritage and attempted to export language and culture along with the faith. Examples of that are easy to find from the strange New England dress codes Christian missionaries tried to impose on native Hawaiians to the distribution of English Language Bibles in China. It seems that many of the lessons of the early church are lessons that need to be taught and learned over and over again.

In general, however, we isolate ourselves from the intense emotions of the Easter season if for no other reason than that it is familiar to us. We know the routine. Six weeks of Lent, Seven weeks of Easter. Then Pentecost Sunday with all of the red clothing and a special service followed by the longest season in the Christian Year. Pentecost lasts until Advent begins, culminating with Reign of Christ Sunday, which this year is November 24, the last Sunday of November.

The season of Pentecost is not an empty season, however. Even though the Sundays are often called “ordinary time,” it is a seasons of telling the stories of the life of Jesus and exploring the depth of other scriptures. In contrast with the intensity of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent and Easter, Pentecost allows the pace to slow slightly and gives the opportunity for us to process the stories of our people.

There is another dynamic that makes cycle of the Christian year powerful and meaningful. A little known festival day occurs on the day after ascension. We often ignore it in parts of the church because our attention is focused on Pentecost Sunday and a Friday holiday a week before pentecost just doesn’t get much of our attention. But each year, on the day after Ascension Day is Annunciation Day, the day that we celebrate the coming of the Angel to Mary to inform her that she is going to be the mother of Jesus.

Perhaps it is like every pregnancy. The world takes little notice of the miracle that is occurring inside of the mother. It is too soon for public announcements, too soon for things to show from the outside, but something important is going on inside of the mother. A quiet holiday seems to best reflect this season of waiting and contemplating and preparing. In the Christian Calendar, we largely ignore Mary’s pregnancy until the final month. We tell the story of the Annunciation at the beginning of Advent and sometimes repeat it on Christmas Eve as if the pregnancy was a short time and an easy experience. The stories of Matthew and Luke, however, remind us that it was far from easy for Mary. She spends time with Elizabeth and the two expectant mothers share their journey. She experiences the doubts of Joseph and his process of making a decision about the continuation of their relationship. We don’t tell these stories often or focus our attention on them in the normal course of our explorations of the life of Jesus. Like any family, some stories get more attention than others.

We call Pentecost the birthday of the church. The event when the first disciples began to reach out and make significant contact with other people has become an important story that we tell to remind ourselves of our unique identity. The Christian movement grew rapidly in its early days. Many were convinced that Jesus is the Messiah and that following Jesus was a way to discover deep meaning for their lives. Like many stories that we tell, it may have become a bit exaggerated in the telling and retelling. We know from other texts that the church did not become a mega church overnight. There were plenty of struggles in small groups. Early missionaries did not have support systems or even solid plans to guide their travels. They went from place to place responding to the circumstances in which they found themselves. They were often greeted with skepticism. They were jailed and abused and others attempted to force them to abandon their beliefs. It took nearly three centuries for the Christian Religion to become anything more than a minority and outlier religious perspective.

We also know that the faith was strong in those early disciples who faced persecution and abuse. There was something about their faith that was contagious enough that others picked up the beliefs and carried on in small groups until finally Christianity emerged into a mainstream religion. And there were compromises of the faith that came from becoming the religion of those with privilege and power.

So today is a sort of a birthday for the church. It is a good time for us to tell some of our origin stories. It is a good time to remind ourselves of the multicultural and multilingual nature of the beginnings of our faith. It is a good day to celebrate the faithfulness of early disciples and to recommit ourselves to caring for and nurturing the church.

Happy Pentecost!

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!