Today is the beginning of a new cycle in the church year, the Feast of Pentecost. Easter has ended liturgically but Pentecost reminds us that the resurrected Christ is still with us by the gift of the Spirit who makes him known to all who believe.
The word pentecost (from the Greek pentekoste hemera, meaning “fiftieth day”) was originally a Hellenistic term for the Jewish Feast of Weeks. For the early Christians Pentecost, eventually celebrated seven weeks after Easter, or fifty days after the Easter Vigil, commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples when they were empowered to preach the gospel. It marks the beginning of the church, at least as we know it in this present age (Acts 2:1-13). Pentecost was actually the third major Jewish feast. It initially celebrated the harvest of grain and later the giving of the Law to Moses on Sinai.
On the first Pentecost Peter preached to people and pilgrims in Jerusalem. Around three thousand believed his message and were baptized on that day. This is a staggering beginning to a new age that dawned in that ancient city. We are thus quite right to refer to this time in history as “the age of the Spirit,” or the season of Pentecost. Theologian J. I. Packer writes:
The New Testament proclaims the gift of the personal Holy Spirit to indwell all believers (Acts 2:18; Rom. 8:9; Gal. 3:2) as the seal, guarantee, means and first fruits (Rom. 8:23; 2 Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:13-14) of their eternal life of fellowship with the Father and the Son (John 17:3; 1 John 1:3). The Spirit, now revealed as a distinct agent who speaks, shows, witnesses, helps, intercedes, and can be grieved and lied to (John 16:13-15; Rom. 8:16, 26; Eph. 4:30; Acts 5:3), mediates the presence of Christ (John 14:16-18; Eph. 3:16-17), unites us to him (Eph. 4:3-4), regenerates (John 3:5, 8; 2 Cor. 3:6; Tit. 3:5), illuminates (1 Cor. 2:13-16; Eph. 1:17), and transforms us (2 Cor. 3:18; Gal. 5:22-23), testifies to our adoption, thus altering our self-knowledge (Rom. 8:16), sustains our praying (Gal. 4:6; Eph. 6:18; Jude 20), and gives us all gifts for service (1 Cor. 12:4-11).
The full new covenant ministry of Jesus presupposed his return to glory to be with the Father and thus did not begin until Pentecost (Acts 2) which is the fulfillment of the pre-ascension promise of Spirit baptism (Acts 1:5: 11:16).
On this day we are all called to remember that this story shows that the gift of the Spirit animates Christ’s people, transforms them, emboldens them and brings divine ability to each of them to be fruitful in ministry.
In my own celebration of Pentecost this year I was reminded that the Spirit is the Spirit of peace. He has come to unite us in Christ as “joint-heirs” and to teach us how to live together in the bonds of peace. Our discipleship has too often lacked credibility precisely because we have not pursued the peace and unity of the catholic church. My particular prayer for today began in my worship last evening:
“Forgive me Lord for all the times that I have been aggressive in my attitude toward others and help me to develop the kind of self-control that will check all rising temptation to needlessly cause more pain in the church of Christ.”