What is Pentecost Sunday?
Many churches around the world celebrate Pentecost Sunday – from the Greek Pentecoste – which was the fiftieth day after the Passover. While it was originally a harvest festival (Shavuot, or the festival of weeks; Lev 23:15-22), it was later associated with the giving of the Law from Sinai. Among Christians, Pentecost Sunday is the 7th Sunday after Easter. In 2023, it falls on May 28.
Pentecost marks the birthday of the Christian church. Just like Jesus was born by the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35), the church too was birthed in the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4).
What does Pentecost mean for us today?
While one could say a lot about the work of the Spirit in the life of the Church, we could briefly focus on these three key implications of Pentecost.
Pentecost shows that God has kept his promises. The Spirit now empowers all of God’s people to fulfil their God-given human calling. And the Spirit fills us with love for all.
The Promise of Pentecost – The Kingdom is here
John the Baptizer had prophesied that one greater than him would come who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire (Luke 3:16). After his resurrection, Jesus promised his disciples that he would send upon them the Father’s promise of power to be witnesses (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4-8).
That promise is fulfilled on the day of Pentecost, with signs of unmistakable power. A rushing mighty wind (as in Ezek 37) and the gathered 120 disciples speaking in other languages, glorifying God, with tongues of fire on them.
Jesus inaugurated the promised kingdom of God through his life, message, miracles, the cross, resurrection and ascension, and in the coming of the Spirit on Pentecost (Mark 1:15; Luke 4:43; Acts 1:3). We now live in this kingdom age, even as we await the final consummation of the kingdom of earth at his glorious coming. All of God’s promises will be fulfilled in our lives, ultimately.
The Power of Pentecost – All are Empowered to be Witnesses
Moses’ desire that all of God’s people would receive the Spirit (Num 11:29) is now fulfilled in the aftermath of Pentecost. All believers, men and women, from around the world can now be witnesses of Christ’s kingdom (Acts 1:8, 14). This fulfils the prophecies of the prophets like Joel (2:28-29). The Spirit is poured out because Jesus has ascended to the Father (Acts 2:33).
Though initially the gospel story focusses on selected apostolic witnesses, the Holy Spirit democratizes the empowerment and commissioning of all believers (Acts 2:39). Gender or age is no bar; all are called to be witnesses. The Holy Spirit guides us and enables us to live a holy life; not to be sinless, but to sin less.
The Gift of Pentecost – The Spirit fills us with Love
Maybe the greatest gift of the Spirit is God’s love being abundantly poured out into our hearts (Rom 5:5). Since God is love (1 John 4:16), it makes sense that the Spirit bestows divine love into human hearts. The Spirit enables us to go beyond the boundaries of culture and language. He helps overcome our innate prejudices and to love others who are very different from us.
We see Peter and John serving a Samaritan village (Acts 8:14-17), when earlier they were ready to destroy a whole Samaritan village (Luke 9:51-56). However, overcoming long-held prejudices is not easy. Peter still struggles with long-held tradition (Gal 2:11-13). A concern for the poor, envisaged in the original feast of weeks (Lev 23:22) is now lived out by the early Christian community in Jerusalem (Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-35).
May this Holy Spirit of God, who empowers us to be witnesses of God’s kingdom, live in and among us and our communities!