On Sunday, May 20, 2018, we celebrate Pentecost and the amazing happenings recorded in chapter 2 of the New Testament Book of Acts. Our focus is on God’s gift of the Holy Spirit. Pentecost means “the fiftieth day,” and it occurs fifty days after Passover. It’s a joyful celebration of the day when God gave Moses the Ten Commandments and made a covenant with Israel to be their God. In biblical times, it was a festival when people came each year to Jerusalem to bring the first fruits of their wheat harvest as an offering to God in the Temple.
In the time of the New Testament, Jesus promised the disciples that God would give them an awesome gift. He told them to wait in Jerusalem, for “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses” to the whole world (Acts 1:8). To be a witness is to tell the truth of what you have seen, heard, and experienced. To be a witness for Jesus is to share the good news about who he is and what he has done as our Savior.
On the morning of Pentecost, a large group of Jesus’ friends and disciples were praying together in a house in Jerusalem. Suddenly, they heard the sound of a powerful wind that filled the house. They saw what looked like tongues of fire above one another’s heads. They felt themselves filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking of the wonderful acts of God who raised Jesus from the dead!
Many Jewish people from other nations had traveled to Jerusalem for the Pentecost festival. Right away, they heard this good news in their own languages and accents. They were amazed that God gave the group of Jesus’ followers from Galilee this special ability. Peter stood up and told the crowd that God was fulfilling the promise of the Old Testament prophet Joel. In response to Peter’s sermon, thousands of people were baptized, and the church grew daily (Acts 2:1-40). This is why we call Pentecost “the birthday of the church.”
When you go to worship on Pentecost Sunday, notice changes in color in the sanctuary. Red is the color of Pentecost, and it signifies the tongues of flames seen over the heads of those praying together. Churches may also display tongues of flame and symbols of wind on banners or posters or create an arrangement of extra lit candles in the worship space.
Pentecost often goes unobserved in our households. But without Pentecost, we wouldn’t have the church. It is good to spend time as a family in devotions on this important day, remembering that God began the church and continues to empower it by God’s Spirit.
What can you do in your family to observe Pentecost?
- Read together Acts 2:1-40. Ask each family member to tell of one thing he or she will try to remember from the Scripture reading.
- Pretend you are Peter delivering that sermon. What would you say to people today to help them understand the message of Jesus?
- Make a Pentecost cake to celebrate the birth of the church. Tint the icing red and decorate. Place candles in clusters to symbolize flames.
- Enjoy wind activities together. Blow bubbles and watch as the wind carries them in the air. Make and fly a kite. Sit outside at dusk and feel the wind on your face.
- Visit an older member of your church. Ask this friend to relate memories of how the congregation started, memories of Sunday school, and recollections of people who were important to his or her faith formation.
- Decorate your home by making red banners, posters, or pictures.
- Attend worship on Pentecost Sunday and wear something red.
- Use the following prayer as part of your home devotions.
Gracious God, you gave the first believers in Jesus courage and the power of the Holy Spirit to tell others about Jesus’ resurrection. Thank you for empowering us to be your witnesses today. Sometimes we are afraid and feel alone. But just like that Pentecost long ago, we are surrounded by your loving presence. Help us to live in such a way that others see in us a reflection of your love. Help us to tell others about the difference it makes in our lives to trust in your care. Help us to see those around us who want to be in the fellowship of Christians. May we witness to one another so that we grow in faith. We pray through the power of your risen Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Rosanna Anderson is the Associate Director of Intergenerational Ministries at Discipleship Ministries.