Pentecost is the birthday of the church

Published 8:45 am Friday, May 25, 2012

Across the Pastor’s Desk

By the Rev. Dr. Tom Biatek, United Methodist Church

Those of us in the Jewish and Christian traditions have a great holiday to celebrate this week: Pentecost.

Pentecost — a greek word meaning 50th day — is, in the Jewish tradition, the day that marks God presenting Moses with the Ten Commandments. The day also goes by the Hebrew name Shavout or the Festival of Weeks. It is a spring harvest festival and, in some traditions, is marked by decorating the home in spring greens, eating dairy products like cheesecake or blintzes, extensive Bible Study and celebration.

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Pentecost, in the Christian tradition, is the birthday of the church and a holy day second only to Easter. In the Acts of the Apostles, Luke reports that the Holy Spirit came like a rushing of wind and appeared to rest on the disciples as tongues of fire. The disciples then preached in many languages to the crowd that gathered outside their room. In the Christian tradition, we mark the day with worship, reading the Pentecost story and, in many churches, welcome new members into the faith. Some Christian churches also reserve the day for the ordination of clergy. Many church members will wear red to worship to symbolize the tongues of fire.

Doing a small bit of research, I found other semi-to-non religious traditions surrounding the day including marches, blowing trumpets, morris dancing and cheese rolling. I cannot figure out why in the world one would chase a huge round of double Gloucester cheese down a steep hill in the Cotswold but it sounds intriguing, to say the least. Pentecost is a holiday in many, many nations, a day off for everyone.

The common element that I see in all of these traditions is one of breaking away from the routine of ordinary life. Each ritual seems to, with intentional irony, force the participant into a new way of looking at our world. Moses and his people had a way of life marked by the punishing routine of slavery but now have a new law and a new relationship to God. The Christian disciple is invited at Pentecost to be transformed from a passive follower into an active leader. In other traditions, we are encouraged to take a holiday from our routine and break out into dance or eat a cheesecake or play music or chase a round of cheese down a hill. There is some silliness involved in some of this and there is an element of fancy in it all. Whatever we do on this sacred day, the unifying idea is that what is routine is to be broken and freedom from dulling routine is to be celebrated. Pentecost reminds us that, in God, all is extraordinary.

So break out of your box this Pentecost season and seek out life in a new way. Read some scripture not in a dull preachy voice but to find the excitement of a spiritual quest. Dance as if no one is watching you. Break out in song. Decorate the home with the garish colors of springtime. Eat dessert first. Make your Pentecost a day of transformation and joy. Live the day like you have always meant to live.

And if, on this Pentecost, you happen to see a clergy person wildly chasing a round of cheese down a steep hill, be kind enough to wish him a joyful Pentecost.