Pentecost and Pentecostals
The traditional church calendar is almost unknown in Pentecostal circles - apart from Christmas and to some extent Easter. Maybe it is a pity that we do not make more of the feast that gave the name to the movement.
The calendar is an important part of the worship of churches that use liturgy. The year develops from a season of preparation and fasting (Advent) leading up to the great celebration of Jesus’ birth, through the next season of preparation (Lent) leading to the great celebration of the Cross and Resurrection. Then come Pentecost (20th May this year) and finally Harvest in the Autumn. But why were these adopted? Why does the year take this shape in liturgical churches? And most of all, what can we learn from them?
Advent is clearly a time to remember why Jesus came and how he came. Yet it also wraps up the hopes and expectations of us all for the fulness of the new creation when Jesus returns. The one who came as a helpless baby will come again as the all-powerful Lord of Lords.
Lent, reaching a pinnacle (or the depths) on Good Friday, and Easter seem to have been modelled from quite early days on the Jewish celebration of Passover. It was the first of the three great feasts that all Israelites under the Old Covenant Law were required to celebrate (Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles). Recalling the sacrifice of lambs so that the people could be ransomed out of Egypt, Passover is a direct prophetic sign of what Jesus did at the Cross and how His resurrection opens the way for us all to have new life: He is the first born from the dead (Rev 1:4; Col 1:15&18). Paul makes clear in 1 Cor 15:20-25 that Jesus was the first raised from the dead so that when He returns all who are in Christ will be raised!
What was Pentecost all about? It was a feast to celebrate the first, early barley harvest. Over time it also came to be associated by the Jews with the giving of the Law to and through Moses, which defined and shaped the people of God. After the Holy Spirit came upon the believers, as described in Acts 2, Christians started to discover that the Spirit now defined and shaped the people of God. And Paul described the Spirit as the “first fruits” (Rom 8:23) or “deposit” (Eph 1:14) guaranteeing the fulness - so receiving the Spirit now is like an early harvest that guarantees the full harvest later.
That later harvest festival was, under the Old Covenant, the feast of Tabernacles. In various ways the Jews celebrated and remembered their dependance on God for provision and for harvest. The name is taken from the booths or temporary structures the people on pilgrimage would live in as a reminder of the tents they had just used while harvesting. It is a wonderful prophetic picture that is yet to be fulfilled when Jesus’ kingdom on earth is fully manifested and the full harvest of those who will believe in Him has been gathered in!
Christmas nowadays is overtaken by commercial interests. Easter is submerged in chocolate. Harvest is a remote concept for most of us town and city dwellers. But Pentecost does not seem to have caught the imagination of the wider community around us. So maybe we should make more of it. Maybe we should be more open about how our identity as God’s people is shaped and defined by His presence. Maybe we should celebrate the fact that He comes now by His Spirit where we make Him Lord.
Pentecost is not a nice, tame feast that those who are not Christians can also enjoy. It is about a rushing wind, tongues of fire, lives transformed. It is about miracles that provoke both faith and anger or opposition. It is about challenging the powers that be. The Spirit cannot be tamed but blows like a wind wherever He wills. And, Jesus says in John 3:8, it is the same for us if we will only follow Him!