Today is Pentecost Sunday in churches all across the globe. Much as Easter is celebrated on one day, though each Sunday is truly Easter Sunday, so it is with Pentecost. Every Sunday we remember that the Holy Spirit is with us, and in us, and that we have the Comforter, the "spirit of Jesus" living in our soul, personally and collectively as believers.
The term Pentecost comes from the Greek name for the Jewish Feast of Weeks at the close of the grain harvest fifty days after Passover and Unleavened Bread. In the early church Pentecost at first designated the whole period of fifty days from Easter; only later did it refer particularly to the fiftieth day, which became a feast in its own right.
The fifty days that celebrated the resurrection in the ancient church were "the first fruits of the end, one great Sunday" (Athanasius) and "the most joyful season" (Tertullian). Augustine said the "Alleluia" was a hopeful sign of the time when "we shall become a perpetual praise." Favorite liturgical texts for the day include readings in John, Acts and Revelation.
By the fourth century the fiftieth day was regarded as the seal of the period, with the Ascension of Christ and the Descent of the Holy Spirit as its twin themes.
In the liturgy I shared this day the following words were part of our call to worship:
In the beginning, O God, there was only you, our ending and our beginning. The Breath of our Life, our Guide and Inspiration, the Fire that fills our soul; consuming us, driving us and renewing us, calling us, commissioning us and empowering us, leading us ever onward to paths we could never imagine, ways we never sought, lives filled and lived in the joy of divine transcendence even in the face of evil: suffering pain and death.
When the Spirit's renewing power and gifting was first experienced in the early twentieth century, in an unusual way, this feast day became associated with this new outpouring of the Spirit, thus the label "Pentecostal." I am thrilled to use the term in this manner so long as it does not become a new denominational label with which to divide the church again.
Ecumenically, the Eastern Orthodox see themselves as bringing a pneumatological ecclesiology, typified in the event of Pentecost, thus they see their view as correcting the Western emphasis upon institutionalism. Understanding this insight would be a great help to those of us in Western churches, especially Roman Catholic and mainstream Protestant.