For much of the contemporary American church, Christmas and Easter are the big festival days for the year. This wasn't the experience for the early church. For early Christians, the big days were Easter and Pentecost.
In many modern American liturgical congregations, Pentecost seldom gets the notoriety it received in the early church. Often it happens as the summer season arrives when many people are preoccupied with discovering the joys that warmer weather brings.
It's true, some congregations choose Pentecost as the day for confirmation, which certainly provides the opportunity to highlight this important day and season.
But for many of us, Pentecost Day is too often overlooked, which may be unfortunate, especially in light of this long season. Perhaps a renewed understanding of its significance will energize the long journey of the time after Pentecost — "ordinary time," as the Roman Catholics call it.
The meaning of Pentecost, the too often neglected festival, is really quite simple: the Spirit of God is present in human community. Community is not an add-on to life, something that should be thought about when the needs of individual life are taken care of. Community is where the Spirit of God takes up residence.
The Spirit who hovered over the waters at the time of creation, who was and is present for the massive task of creating, the Spirit who clearly invaded Jesus, the one the Gospel of John says reveals to us the Father — this Spirit is experienced in the simple gatherings of people, in their communal times of mourning and their communal times of laughing.
The Spirit is present as the community works hard and as it shares leisure, as it moves toward perfection and lives most often within imperfection, as it experiences extraordinariness and ordinariness, as it reflects grumpiness and joyfulness.
This truly is an amazing claim, which is why Luke in Acts needed to express it in such a wild way. Sometimes things that are amazing require amazing images — tongues of fire resting on people's heads, the rush of a mighty wind, people speaking in languages they didn't even know, the sun turning to darkness and the moon turning to blood. This is all so amazing and, frankly, quite weird.
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© 2013 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers