Pentecost is May 31 this year. Let’s gear up together to enter into the mystery of Pentecost!
I guess our first course of action should be to identify what the Christian festival of Pentecost is so that we know what we’re celebrating.
The Feast of Weeks
So many Christians unwittingly (or even intentionally!) say or do anti-semitic things, so I think it is important to begin with the Jewish roots of the festival. Pentecost means “Fiftieth” in Greek, and was used as a term by Greek-speaking Jewish people to refer to the festival of Shavuot (literally: “Weeks”), which occurs fifty days after the second day of Passover. This festival has come to celebrate the giving of the Law. It occurs during the first wheat harvest. It is one of three “Pilgrim Festivals,” on which Jewish men were required to go to the temple in Jerusalem to offer sacrifice at the temple and bring an offering from their fields. They would hear special readings from the Psalms, and a reading of the book of Ruth. (As an aside, Ruth has some very interesting lessons about agriculture!)
Now, flash forward to the followers of Jesus. Jesus had been taken outside of Jerusalem, and was killed. His body was buried, and then on Easter Sunday, he rose again, and was with them in a new and mysterious way. This is what we have been contemplating during the season of Easter. Then, one day, Jesus left them alone again in a way that surprised them. Here is how the book of the Acts of the Apostles begins:
In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”-Acts 1:1-11, NRSV.
This year, we will remember Jesus’ Ascension to Heaven on Thursday, May 21. This day is exactly 40 days after Easter Sunday. Some traditions move the Ascension to the following Sunday so that it can be celebrated all together in the main service of Holy Eucharist. Please do not expect me to explain where Heaven is, or how Jesus came to fly there through the clouds. I have no answers, I can only wonder along with you.
I’ve collected some lovely ways to celebrate the Ascension at home. Some of them are very simple, some are more elaborate. Some involve spending money, some are free.
Go for a walk
Over and over, Jesus and the disciples are depicted walking around on the ground and talking to one another. Take some time as a family to walk and talk together. Walk slowly, you are there for one another. Maybe even stop for a minute and take your shoes off to feel the Earth beneath your feet. Maybe go for a walk by yourself to reconnect with the Earth and sky.
As you walk together, wonder aloud:
- If we could only go on one more walk, and that was it, for the rest of our lives, who would we want to walk with? Where would we want to go? What would we take with us?
- Jesus walked pretty much everywhere. How is it different when we are walking together instead of riding our bicycles or driving in a car?
Fly a kite
I remember when I was very young, the first time I saw my father fly a kite, I thought it was a miracle. Even though I intellectually understand the mechanics of lift and how the tense string keeps the kite firmly tethered to my hand, I’m still in awe when I get a chance to fly a kite. Flying a kite is a great way to recapture that awe, to stare up at the sky like the early disciples, and to watch something get smaller and smaller as it ascends.
Release a lantern
There are some lovely biodegradable options on the market today for paper lanterns. Paper lanterns are great because you can write your prayers on the outside of the lantern, light the fuel cell, and release it. Be careful not to cause any forest fires.
After Jesus left them, the disciples were confused. Jesus had told them to stay in Jerusalem and wait. I wonder what the waiting was like for them. Maybe it is like our indoor waiting. We know that one day we will be set loose, and we will gather in the public square again, but for now we must stay put and wait.
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”– Acts 2: 1-13, NRSV.
At Pentecost, we celebrate the day that the Holy Spirit came down and gave birth to the Church. It’s our birthday! There is so much mystery in how the Church came to be, and there are so many great ways to celebrate.
Do you have a prayer space set up in your home? The color that most churches use for Pentecost is bright red, to remember the tongues of fire. Go ahead and add as many red things as you can find in your house and in your yard. Clutter it up with red things for today!
Listen to some sacred music
There are so many great options for music to get you in the mood for Pentecost. One great option is to go to youtube and listen to sacred music in many different languages, especially languages that you do not speak.
I love this song by Ana Hernandez and Fran McKendree called “All Shall Be Well / Another World is Possible.”
Bake a birthday cake for the Church
A birthday cake is a great way to remember the birth of the Church, and Pentecost is a great excuse to eat cake. Maybe use red candles to commemorate, and use a loud windy device to blow them out, just like in the story. Bring out the hair dryer, which is both noisy and gusty!
Make a tongue of fire hat or “fire sticks”
The Reverend MaryJane Pierce Norton offers this prayer for Pentecost:
Gracious God. We are reminded again when the first believers in Jesus were given the courage to tell others about Jesus. We believe you give us that same courage to tell others about Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit. You know, O God, that sometimes we are fearful and we feel alone. But just like that Pentecost long ago, we, too, are surrounded by your love and presence. Help us live in such a way that others see in us a reflection of your love. Help us have the courage to tell others about the difference it makes in our lives to trust in your love and care. Help us see those around who want to be in the fellowship of Christians. Help us to witness to one another so that we grow in faith. Through the power of your Holy Spirit and the witness of your son, Jesus the Christ, we pray today. Amen.