Sunday 9th June 2019 is Pentecost Sunday, known more popularly as Whit (White) Sunday.
Pentecost is the Greek name for the Jewish Shavuot – Feast of Weeks – a prominent feast in ancient Israel commemorating the giving of The Law (the 10 Commandments) to Moses on Mt Sinai. Pentecost (from the Greek for fifty) falls 50 days after the Jewish Passover festival, and hence approx. 50 Days after Easter Sunday.
In the Christian Church Pentecost marks the day when God sent His Holy Spirit on the assembled Apostles and Disciples gathered in the Upper Room in Jerusalem, just as Jesus had promised.
In the ten days since Jesus had ascended into Heaven, they had been gathered in the Upper Room in Jerusalem, just as Jesus had asked them to do. They had been spending their days in and around the temple, praying and praising God, and waiting for “the Helper” Jesus had promised would come to strengthen them for the evangelistic role he had commissioned them to do.
Now on this first Pentecost Sunday, The Holy Spirit arrived.
The Holy Spirit is the third facet of the Godhead understood by Christian theology – God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit (Holy Ghost in older language). The Spirit arrived on that first ‘Christian’ Pentecost with a sound like a rushing wind. It seemed to descend on each person present like fiery tongues of flame settling on or just above their heads. Immediately the Disciples were filled with a new energy, zeal and confidence – and a strengthened commitment to proclaiming the Gospel (the Good News) of Jesus as Christ (Messiah).
The Holy Spirit gave them special gifts including the ability to speak in a multitude of languages so that when, almost immediately they went out into the street and started preaching the Gospel, the many different peoples thronging the cosmopolitan city of Jerusalem for the Jewish Shavuot Festival, immediately understood what was being said in their own language. Some passers-by who heard the cacophony of sound assumed that the disciples were drunk – but the more devout among the crowd, hearing the teaching in their own languages, admonished the mockers. Simon Peter then stood up (it was the tradition at that time that any rabbi or teacher would sit in a convenient location and teach/preach to those gathered around). Peter proclaimed that they could not be drunk, for it was only about the “third hour” of the day (of daylight – i.e. about 9.00 a.m.). Rather he said, what they were seeing and hearing was a fulfilling of an Old Testament prophecy: ” ‘And in the last days,’ God says, ‘I will pour out my spirit upon every sort of flesh, and your sons and your daughters will prophesy and your young men will see visions and your old men will dream dreams.”
Such was the conviction of their teaching that many in the crowd were convinced of the truth of the message of the Gospel: “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.”
This “formal” start of the preaching, teaching and evangelising Ministry of the Eleven Apostles and the other disciples gathered with them, is taken by many Christians to mark the formation of the Christian Church (Ecclesia (Gr: Ekklesia) – in this context meaning ‘The gathered people of God under Christ’). Hence in many churches, Pentecost is seen as the “Birthday” of the Church. The liturgical colour for Pentecost is Red – representing the Tongues of Flame of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is also represented as a Dove.