Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Forgotten Holiday

Baptists are not very liturgical as far as the Christian calendar is concerned.  Holy days seem too "Catholic" to many. Christmas and Easter are about the only religious celebrations that appear on the Baptist schedule. Even the preparatory seasons of Advent and Lent are slighted, if not ignored outright. The day of Pentecost is often neglected, especially if it falls on Memorial Day weekend. Patriotic spirit trumps Holy Spirit.

I have tried to get my congregations to wear red on Pentecost. I always wore a red tie and encouraged people to follow my example. I loved to look out on a congregation of red ties, red dresses and red accessories. But few remembered. It is easy to forget a holiday that is not commercialized. There are not too many Pentecost sales at the mall or Pentecost cards exchanged.

I thought about - but could never bring myself to wear - a red blazer in the pulpit! But now that I am "semi-retired" and attending a Presbyterian church (where most members do not know my secret identity as a Baptist preacher) I plan to wear my bright red Hawaiian shirt to worship tomorrow.

I have always picked hymns about the Holy Spirit to sing on Pentecost. Do you know how few good Holy Spirit songs there are? Even the ones with good lyrics are boringly slow. "Breathe on Me Breath of God" helps me breathe deeply - snoring, that is. "Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart" is more likely to cause slumber to descend upon me than heavenly power.

At first people seemed apprehensive about my Pentecost sermons. Maybe they thought I was a closet charismatic and might speak in tongues or be "slain in the Spirit." No chance of that. That is Pentecostal, not Pentecost. Big difference. I have always thought that Pentecostals have missed the point of Pentecost ... and of the Holy Spirit, for that matter.

Pentecost for me is not primarily "the birthday of the church" as it is often characterized. It is the manifestation of the Kingdom of God on earth. It may have been what Jesus was talking about when he said, "Assuredly, I say to you that there are some standing here who will not taste death till they see the kingdom of God present with power." Maybe, but I think there is more to that verse. In any case, Pentecost is an experience of the power of the kingdom.

The Spirit of God mingled with the spirits of human beings on that day. The apostles visibly saw what is always invisibly present. People momentarily returned to the Source of their souls. As the apostle Paul said, "The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God."

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrote, "We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience." I would go further than that. The dualism of experiencer and experience falls away at Pentecost. Boundaries melt. Languages become obsolete. Ethnic origin is irrelevant. And the good news of the Kingdom is shared.

At Pentecost God gave the early Christians a glimpse of their lives beyond their human conditioning. Heavenly fire burns up all distinctions. They saw their home in God. 

But in most churches today spiritual amnesia reigns, and the holiday is forgotten. People feel no need to celebrate what they do not remember.
Art is The Pentecost by Alexander Sadoyan - Oil/Canvas (20" x 26")

1 comment:

  1. Paul Tillich, The Eternal Now:

    "...God as present in communities and personalities, grasping them, inspiring them, and transforming them."

    "But the Spirit of God hides God from our sight."

    "And then the absent one may return and take the space that belongs to Him, and the Spiritual Presence may break again into our consciousness, awakening us to recognize what we are, shaking and transforming us."


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