Breathe on me, breath of God; (and) fill me with life anew.
- Edwin Hatch
Good Friday may be more inspiring, and Christmas and Easter more celebrated or enjoyed, but as church holidays go, Pentecost, which we observe today, is easily the most ignored.
Since its normal to ignore what we know little about, perhaps we should say Pentecost is the most misunderstood holiday, or at least the most disconnected from its proper definition, The birthday of the Christian Church. With a little study, however, we may be able to call this day exciting, too - as birthday celebrations tend to be.
Several days had passed since the disciples watched Jesus rise from their midst and disappear into the clouds. Unlike the three-day interlude between his crucifixion and resurrection, they knew this was no temporary parting. But their mood was different this time; He was alive. The resurrection had proven he was the Son of God, and they found it easier to believe what he said, and do what he told them.
Dont leave Jerusalem, he had said on their last day together, but wait for the gift my Father has promised(for) you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:4-8).
It would have been unusual for a Jew to leave Jerusalem this time of year anyway. As was their custom, throngs of Jewish pilgrims had filled the narrow, city streets to celebrate Pentecost, one of the oldest and most important holidays in Judaism. Long before Christians adopted this 50th day after Easter to remember the coming of the Holy Spirit, Jews remembered their deliverance from Egypt 50 days after Passover each year, on a day they, too, called Pentecost.
But this year was no ordinary Pentecost. Imagine the scene: some 120 timid, ordinary men suddenly transformed into bold spokesmen for what, until then, had been a minority faith. They took to the streets, preached in loud voices, and spoke in languages they didnt know before, but which travelers from countries would recognize (Acts 2:1-13).
Imagine the Apostle Peter, who had deserted Jesus at the crucifixion, standing before the crowd proclaiming, Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus whom you crucified has been raised from the dead . He is seated now at the right hand of God, but God has poured out his Spirit on us and that is what you are witnessing here (Acts 2:14, 32-33).
The response was electrifying. What shall we do now? the crowd asked. And in a revival service for the record books, about 3,000 were added to (the disciples) number that day (Acts 2:41).
The Holy Spirit, however, continues to be a misunderstood part of what is called, the triune God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It may help to think of this part of that trinity as God in the present tense. In fact, God has always been in the present tense, first as the Father/Creator, then as the Son who was present for a time on earth, and now as the part of God with you always (Matthew 28:20).
As hymn writer Edwin Hatch explains, another symbol for the Holy Spirit is the breath of God. When God created the first human being, He breathed into his nostrils the breath of life (Genesis 2:7). With a pat on the back to activate tiny lungs, a newborn child takes that first breath and, technically, becomes a living soul. And when that body dies, we say the person has taken his or her last breath.
The Holy Spirit of God activated the Christian Church when He breathed into the lungs of those first disciples on the Day of Pentecost, 2,000 years ago, and there has been no obituary, no funeral service and no indication the church has ceased to exist in all the years since.
The Church may have had periods of weakness, prolonged ill health, and multiple departures from her ranks. But there is still breath in her midst, and a life and breath-giving Holy Spirit available to renew her strength as long as the earth remains.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local free-lance writer. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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