Over more than a decade of following Jesus, I’ve read Acts a few times and studied it a couple times, but somehow I brushed past the first several words of Acts 2 every time.
“When the day of Pentecost came…” I’ll blame my ethnocentricity as a New Testament Christian on this one. How had I not seen it before?
By skimming past a few words, I was missing something pretty big. Acts 2 does not describe the events of the first Pentecost. It’s understandable that I went straight to the sound of a blowing, violent wind and those tongues of fire in the following verses. That kind of action in the midst of hundreds of pages of words is going to grab attention. It’s what the modern church focuses on, because we want to be people of big action, and it invites us to pull up a chair and watch. The new church was being born out of the wind and fire and hundreds were being added. To this New Testament believer, those things are what defined Pentecost. I completely missed the fact that it was already Pentecost.
After flipping through some commentaries (that’s what a good seminary graduate and spouse of a pastor does), I uncovered what I expected. Jews were gathering in the city for Pentecost, the Festival of Weeks or Reaping (Exodus 34:22; 23:16). It was celebrated as the Day of First Fruits (Number 28:26). Traditionally, the Book of Ruth was read at this time. The theme of harvest and community care wonderfully aligns with the big picture of Acts 2. The first disciples added to their number that day; they reaped a harvest of new followers of Jesus. What followed was continued gathering and collecting of their resources, spending time together as family, and caring for those in need.
It’s easy to get excited about the Holy Spirit showing up in such a tangible way through wind and fire. That’s really enough, but what really interests me is the reason the disciples gathered and what happened after. The people met daily, ate together, and praised God.
My mind goes to the obstacles for living this way today. Getting together with immediate family daily to eat together and praise God can be a huge undertaking. It’s hard to do weekly for small groups, let alone getting together daily. What are the barriers that keep us from breaking bread together and from praising God with one another? Sometimes it’s money or other obligations of time. Sometimes we don’t gather because our church culture just doesn’t do it. Work, school, and schedules exhaust us. Maybe we don’t praise God together regularly because it’s awkward to bring up. Maybe we feel guilty because we don’t feel so great about our current relationship status with God.
Pentecost is more than a day on the liturgical church calendar. It is more than just one of the few times the red vestments get taken out. Unlike Advent and Lent, Pentecost is typically only granted one single day for celebration. Give it a season. Let the fullness of it—from that day in the upper room to now—speak a new truth for you.
The day of Pentecost is one that stands as a reminder to the call of the church. Jesus was clear about our call to go and make disciples, but the gift of the Spirit is what empowers us and directs us to accomplish that calling. Not all of us are called to be John or Charles Wesley, Francis Asbury, Thomas Coke or any of the other Christian heroes that keep me inspired, challenged, and my bookshelf full. Yet, we are invited into this everyday task of unity, breaking bread together and praising God. It really is a simple thing. Our lives over-complicate it. The biggest challenge is often figuring out those things we allow to over-complicate the important task (usually it’s our own selves).
All of this makes me wonder what action of the Holy Spirit I may have missed due to my preconceived notions of what the Holy Spirit is supposed to do or be. What have I missed because I skipped to the big moments in Scripture or life? What have I overlooked because I thought I knew what I was looking for?
Birthdays are a good thing to celebrate. Churches around the world celebrate the birth of the Christian church here on earth on the Day of Pentecost. Birthdays are also a good time for reflecting. When it comes to Easter and Christmas, we take time to collectively and individually reflect on things. As we enter what is called “Ordinary Time,” which makes up more than half of the liturgical church calendar, why don’t we meet together, break bread, praise God, and reflect on the gains and losses as the church? Let us consider how we can lessen the complications of our daily lives, which prevent us from banding together.