What Does Pentecost Mean and How Do I Celebrate?

Happy Pentecost! But What Does It Mean And How Do I Celebrate?

Advent is my favorite space on the church calendar. I understand the season as preparation and a solemn but celebratory time of waiting. Lent is longer, and I find myself losing focus, but I appreciate the invitation to reckon with Christ’s offering up of himself and to examine my own heart before diving into the observance of resurrection on Easter Sunday. But Pentecost?

The name defines itself if you remember your geometric prefixes from middle school: Penta is the Greek number five, and Pentecost is the Sunday that falls on the fiftieth day after Easter. This year that’s June 5. Those of us who are oblivious to the rhythms of the church calendar have forgotten all about Easter by now, having moved on to summer celebrations.

So, let’s review…

What’s the Significance of Pentecost?

While Pentecost has historical roots in Judaism, the church observes Pentecost to remember the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and others who had gathered in Jerusalem. Jesus had predicted the Holy Spirit’s arrival as Comforter and Helper, and I wonder how long it took the disciples to make the connection between Jesus’s words and the event we read about in Acts 2:

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Acts 2:1-4

More than once, the prophet Isaiah (32:15; 44:1-4) predicted that God would “pour out” his Spirit upon his people. Not that God’s people at the time were worthy of any such gift. But then, God is in the habit of blessing the unworthy, and from the very beginning, when God the Holy Spirit shows up, things begin to happen!

The power that brought the creation into being out of nothing landed mightily in the Upper Room, and the energy of the Godhead changed history forever.

Why Celebrate Pentecost?

The appearance of tongues of fire must have been outlandish in a world lit by candles and oil lamps, but I’m drawn to the miracle of understanding that happened in the Upper Room:

And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?”

Acts 2:8

What was scrambled at Babel had been set right at Pentecost. What had been fractured at Babel was restored in a moment. The Spirit of God held up a blazing Stop sign for all the “Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene.”

Stop and Listen!
“Call upon the name of the Lord!” (2:21)
“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (2:36)

Tongues of fire were outlandish in a world lit by candles and oil lamps, but I’m drawn to the miracle of understanding in the Upper Room. Scrambled at Babel. Restored at #Pentecost. God’s power alone makes restoration possible.

Why Does Pentecost Matter?

In these days after Easter over 2000 years later, we need this reminder that on the first Pentecost the Holy Spirit came to the body gathered together, not to separate individuals. The church has been ethnically diverse from the beginning–ethnically and psychologically and politically and socially and in every way diverse.

How amazing that God’s first gift to the fledgling New Testament church was the gift of understanding! And so the message comes anew to us at Pentecost, to all people of New England, New York, California, dwellers of the European Union, Southeast Asia, and the Land Down Under!

Because a diverse church gathered in understanding one day, we are now The Church. Peter’s sermon incorporated words from Joel’s prophecy about a powerful outpouring, and the Spirit of God is unchanged. God’s power alone is able to make restoration possible.

Remember, when the Spirit shows up, things happen.

Whether you are currently praying earnestly for the devastated citizens of Ukraine or of Buffalo, New York; whether you are praying for revival in your church or revival of your dying marriage; whether you are asking God for a vision for your next ministry venture or asking for strength just to get out of bed today, here’s the message of Pentecost for you:

You are not saved by admiring Christ’s example.
You are not saved by applying his teaching.
You are not even saved by your flawless theology, or your ability to staff the nursery, sing in the worship team, lead a Bible study, type the church bulletin, AND have guests every week for Sunday dinner.

You are saved by the power of God, stronger than your sin, poured out in your life today and everyday.

God’s power alone is able to make restoration possible.

How Can I Celebrate Pentecost?

Celebration Suggestion #1

First and foremost, celebrate Pentecost by acknowledging the power of God that never leaves the believer. The Holy Spirit, the force that created the universe, comes to you personally and intimately. Begin by reading the account of Pentecost in Acts 2, the prophecy of Joel in Joel 2, and then let these words from the Book of Common Prayer frame your celebration:

O God, who on this day didst teach the hearts of thy faithful people by sending to them the light of thy Holy Spirit: Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things, and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort; through the merits of Christ Jesus our Savior, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the same Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

BOCP, 175

Celebration Suggestion #2

Read Josey Johnson’s Hair and the Holy Spirit to your family!

This new picture book from IVP Kids makes it clear that God created differences because differences are worth celebrating. What’s evident all around us in nature–the “manifold works” of God expressed in an endless variety of trees, flowers, bugs, and beasts–becomes obvious when we look at God’s creative design of humanity.

Like so many children, Josey Johnson looks in the mirror and understands her differences as bad or less-than. A heart-to-heart talk with her dad helps her to see that while God could have made all of us the same, he chose to exercise creativity. He must LOVE differences!

Author Esau McCaulley and illustrator LaTonya Jackson have curated this message to children of color, focusing on Josey’s beautiful black hair, but all children are aware of the ways in which they don’t fit in or feel comfortable inside their own skin. In his first book, Reading While Black, McCaulley begins a conversation about race for the church, and now parents will appreciate his winsome and wise communication as he puts positive words around God’s intentionally diverse design.

As a bonus, Josey’s conversation with her dad happens on the Saturday before Pentecost, and while they shop together for a red dress, he explains the praying and the waiting and the “tongues of fire” on people’s heads. Josey comes to understand that “Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is for all people, no matter what language they speak, the color of their skin, or the curl of their hair.” That’s a gift to be celebrated on Pentecost and every day!

Celebration Suggestion #3

Join Josey Johnson in wearing something red to church on Pentecost Sunday!

Historically, red has come to represent joy and the fire of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, in more traditional houses of worship, worship leaders and choirs wore red robes or vestments. Splashes of red throughout the congregation would be a beautiful visual reminder, so I’m planning to wear red on Pentecost Sunday. Even if red’s not your favorite, why not enjoy a splash of color with a red shawl or scarf?

As you celebrate, however you celebrate, keep these questions in mind:

Where is God the Holy Spirit already at work in your church, in your family, or in your community?

How can you cooperate with him in putting the power of God on display in a fractured world that needs restoration, understanding, and a reversal of the curse of Babel?

Holding You in the Light,

God created differences because differences are worth celebrating. That’s the message of Josey Johnson’s Hair and the Holy Spirit by @esaumccaulley via @IvpKids #booktwitter #kidsbooks #diversity

Do You Wonder If God Is Okay with Your Questions?

Curiosity has been my strange companion since my recent diagnosis with Parkinson’s Disease, so I’ve created a resource to invite you into curiosity along with me! God is not some grumpy parent, silencing his children and condemning our questions. 

This line of thinking sent me on a biblical scavenger hunt for questions posed by the Bible’s authors. What were they asking and how should this affect the questions I’m asking and the way my curiosity is framed?

To receive your copy of “Half a Dozen Biblical Questions for Entering (and Enduring) Hard Times” simply enter your email and then click on the button below…

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Many thanks to InterVarsity Press for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which is, of course, offered freely and with honesty.

Photo by Paul Bulai on Unsplash

48 thoughts on “Happy Pentecost! But What Does It Mean And How Do I Celebrate?”

  1. The power and excitement the apostles and others must have felt on that Pentecost – the prophecy fulfilled and the Holy Spirt poured out . . . Hallelujah!! We really should highlight and teach – and celebrate!! – this Biblical feast in the modern church. Thanks for sharing a great post to sum up the significance.

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  2. “What was scrambled at Babel had been set right at Pentecost.” I’d never thought of Pentecost in that way. But it makes sense since Christ broke down the dividing walls. Enjoyed your post, Michele.

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  3. “What was scrambled at Babel had been set right at Pentecost.” I had not thought of Pentecost in that way before, that the gift of the Holy Spirit was a gift of understanding a message that was to go out to all.

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  4. Pentecost must have been SUCH an exciting moment, precipitating a glorious day when 3,000 people became believers. We SHOULD celebrate this milestone! I think I’ll wear red this Sunday too.

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  5. This is a great post. I have never been part of a church that has marked Pentecost in a big way and I’ve never really thought about how to celebrate it, but I think I will find something red to wear on Sunday!

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  6. Thanks for reminding us that Pentecost is on the way. I had forgotten. But that power should never be forgotten! Yes, the power of God alone is what saves us. Beautiful focus here, Michele.

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  7. Michele, I so appreciate the insight you bring to Pentecost. Your reminder that what saves us is God’s power is always good. And this is the question I am taking with me into the rest of this week:

    “Where is God the Holy Spirit already at work in your church, in your family, or in your community?” Thanks, Michele!

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  8. things do indeed happen when the Spirit shows up – love that.
    Can you imagine actually experiencing what they did on the day of Pentecost? So powerful – I get chills.

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  9. Michele, thanks for enriching the Pentecost for me, for filling in some of the blanks.

    And this right here –
    ‘The church has been ethnically diverse from the beginning–ethnically and psychologically and politically and socially and in every way diverse.’

    Amen. May this truth free us up to live with freedom, to enlarge our borders, to learn to love others well.

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  10. The events of of the first Pentecost initiated the birth of the Christian church in the world. Now, it’s a happy and celebratory day at our church. We sing hymns about the Holy Spirit, and we wear red to church.

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  11. Thanks for sharing this information and teaching me something new. I’d heard of the word Pentecost but had no idea of its meaning. Thanks for linking up with #DreamTeam

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  12. Hi Michele,

    This moved me…”You are not saved by admiring Christ’s example.
    You are not saved by applying his teaching.
    You are not even saved by your flawless theology, or your ability to staff the nursery, sing in the worship team, lead a Bible study, type the church bulletin, AND have guests every week for Sunday dinner.

    You are saved by the power of God, stronger than your sin, poured out in your life today and everyday.” Amen!

    Thanks for the suggestions, as well. I’ll need to read the children’s book you’ve suggested.

    Blessings,
    Tammy

    Like

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