What is Pentecost?

He Qi, Holy Spirit Coming (detail), undated 21st century. © He Qi, 2013.

He Qi, Holy Spirit Coming (detail), undated 21st century. © He Qi, 2013.

By Rob Durocher

Before the Christian church was established, Pentecost (Shavuot – The Feast of Weeks) was a Jewish holiday held 50 days or 7 weeks after Passover. This was one of three major festivals celebrated during the Jewish year lifting up Thanksgiving for the harvest. Although Pentecost from the Greek pentekoste means ‘fiftieth’, for the Christian church Pentecost means something entirely different.

Pentecost for us is a major festival of the Christian church that follows the Ascension of Jesus into heaven. Before Jesus’ crucifixion he promised his disciples that he would ask his Father in heaven to send a Counselor (the Holy Spirit) to come after him. (John 14:16-18) that would be with them forever – the Spirit of Truth.

50 days after Jesus rose from the dead (including the 10 days after he ascended into heaven), while the Apostle Peter and Jesus’ early followers were in Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost, that promise was fulfilled as we read the Book of Acts chapter 2 verses 1-4: When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. With the arrival of the Holy Spirit the world was turned upside down because this is the birth of the church in action when the church is clothed in power from on high (Luke 24:46-49) to truly go into all the world to make disciples baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit! (Matthew 28:19)

Symbolically we recognize the Holy Spirit of Pentecost in images of fire and wind.  Wind (pneuma in Greek) also means breath and symbolizes the ‘violent wind that came from heaven’, the mighty wind of the Spirit. Fire, or tongues “as of fire,” speaks of when the Holy Spirit rested on the disciples on the morning of Pentecost to fill them with himself. The spiritual tradition has retained this symbolism of fire as one of the most expressive images of the Holy Spirit’s actions. There is another symbol that represents the Holy Spirit and that is the Dove. When Jesus was baptized by John the Baptizer the Spirit of God descended upon Jesus like a Dove, according to the four accounts of Jesus’ baptism in the Gospels. The dove has throughout the Bible represented peace, purity and new beginnings.

Today, as it was 2,000 years ago, the impact that the Holy Spirit makes in the lives of those who are filled cannot be measured! The Spirit’s power is inconceivable and overcomes our weakness to make us bold in our faith and witness as we are called to go and make disciples. It is the Holy Spirit who calls us, renews us, blesses us, bestows fruits and gifts on us. Nothing would be possible without the Spirit’s dwelling in us to guides us leading us to freedom from sin, sealing us in our faith in Christ as we are called to bear witness of Jesus love in serving and to inherit God’s kingdom for eternity. (Romans 8)

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)


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