When it comes to church holidays, Christmas and Easter get all the attention, but what about Pentecost? This year, Pentecost Sunday falls on June 12. But many Christians would be hard pressed to explain the significance of the day.
Dr. Timothy Larsen, the Carolyn and Fred McManis Chair of Christian Thought at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill., explained to The Christian Post, "Pentecost is the day that the church was born. On that day, the Holy Spirit came to fill believers. Jesus had ascended, but he sent the Spirit so that believers could have the comfort, guidance, and empowerment of God's presence."
Each year, Pentecost Sunday comes 50 days after Easter Sunday, hence its name. The Greek word for 50 is pentecost. The beginning of Pentecost is recorded in Acts 2:1-2.
The disciples of Jesus were gathering together the day of Pentecost when:
"Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them." – Acts 2:2-4
Matthew L. Skinner, associate professor of New Testament at Luther Seminary, doesn't like to refer to Pentecost as "the birthday of the church." He wrote in The Huffington Post that the day is much more interesting than that.
"In Christian tradition, Pentecost brings the 50-day Easter season to a close," he wrote. "But it also points forward toward new beginnings, for it's when Christians celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit and the new horizons this opens up in the story of God's commitment to the world."
Pentecost Sunday, he stressed, isn't just about celebrating the past or "stoking nostalgia about the church's supposed glory days." Rather, "Pentecost is an invitation to dream. For when a community of faith quits dreaming dreams, it has little to offer either its members or the wider world."
When the Holy Spirit descended some 2,000 years ago, one of Jesus' disciples, Peter, explained the event to a perplexed crowd by invoking Prophet Joel's words: "In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy."
While words such as "prophecy" and "visions" may scare some people off or evoke bad memories for others, Skinner explained that this is not about seeing into the future, but rather seeing God as active or visible in the world now that Jesus has gone and the Spirit has arrived.
"Pentecost is a time for Christians to be reminded that we're a bunch of dreamers," he highlighted. "I'm talking about communities of faith that discover they – together – can be a vehicle for manifesting God's vision for the world."