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Pentecost: A Christian Festival for the 21st Century
The Church was born at Pentecost, 50 days after Jesus' resurrection. Today we recognize it as a celebration of unity, fellowship and communion of all believers.

Years ago a Church of England clergyman surprised me with his comment to open the worship service. "Happy birthday, Church!" he exclaimed. As a visitor, I thought this was a reference to some local anniversary for this particular congregation. However, the minister went on to explain that this day, the seventh Sunday after Easter, was Whitsunday and a time to commemorate the descent of the Holy Spirit.

… an era of grace and faith now superseded and transcended the age of law …

Several teenagers dressed in white robes were confirmed into the church that day. The name "White Sunday," a reference to the white clothing worn, is usually abbreviated to Whitsunday. It is the anniversary of the beginning of the New Testament Church, which started around 30 AD. Now almost 2,000 years later, many congregations around the world continue this tradition and celebrate that small beginning in the city of Jerusalem.

Gale-force wind

The disciples were all together in one place that Sunday. This may well have been the temple in Jerusalem where they often gathered in the morning. A large crowd of Jews was nearby to witness the extraordinary events. Without warning there was the sound of a gale-force wind filling the whole building. No one could tell where it came from. This wind was a physical manifestation and symbol of the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Wildfire and different languages

What seemed to be tongues of fire separated and came to rest on each of the disciples. Fire is a symbol of the divine presence. God appeared to Moses in a burning bush. Jesus spoke of a baptism of fire and now the disciples were "filled with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:4). Devout visitors from all over the known world were perplexed to hear the disciples talk in their various mother tongues.

This was a new and unusual miracle. Some joked, "They're drunk on cheap wine!"

A message from Peter

The prophet Joel had written about the last days and the apostle Peter explained Pentecost was the fulfillment of this. The "last days" began with Christ's first coming and will end at the Second Coming. The kingdom of God was here. Peter's message that day focused on who Jesus is—both crucified and risen. Jesus is the head of a new, spiritual Israel. Three thousand people responded with repentance and baptism. God called more into the body of Christ and the Church began to grow in numbers. The new disciples gathered in regular fellowship and lived lives of faith, making evident the good news that all humans may enter the kingdom of God by putting their trust in Jesus Christ.

A new age

The Greek word pentekostos means fiftieth and this day, for most Christians 50 days after Resurrection Sunday, is usually called Pentecost. This important beginning for the Church signalled that a new age had dawned. A new and different era of grace and faith now superseded and transcended the age of law, which according to Jewish tradition had begun with the giving of the law at Mount Sinai on the festival of Pentecost. Eternal life is now available to all peoples. The invitation is given to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour and enter the kingdom of heaven. Salvation and forgiveness is offered to believers. The Church age had arrived.

Annual birthday celebration

Many Worldwide Church of God congregations choose this day to have a combined service with the church whose building they rent. On one particular Pentecost, two congregations from different denominations had a cake baked with the inscription, "How good and how pleasant for brothers to dwell together in unity" (Psalm 133:1). The members then joined together for a potluck barbecue. In stark contrast to the tower of Babel and the separation of peoples, now there is spiritual unity for all believers in our Lord Jesus Christ.

God the Holy Spirit

Together, the Church worships, fellowships, partakes of communion, prays and disciples others. God the Holy Spirit brings sinners to repentance, gives eternal life to believers and lives in them to conform them to the image of Jesus Christ.

Pentecost is an annual reminder for the Church. The Church is led by the Holy Spirit in fulfilling its mission to preach the Gospel, to teach all that Christ commanded and to nurture the flock. Today many Christians annually continue to celebrate the Pentecost of the New Covenant.

Happy birthday, Church!

David Sheridan is the pastor of the Medicine Hat, Red Deer and Wetaskiwin, AB Worldwide Church of God congregations.

Originally published in the Northern Light Magazine, May/June 2003.




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