The Culmination of Easter Season: Pentecost
Heritage Sunday/Aldersgate Day (UMC)/Memorial Day Weekend (US)
Detail from the Easter Mosaic of the Cathedral Basilica
of Saint Louis, MO. CC BY-SA 4.0.
See the texts, artwork and Revised Common Lectionary Prayers for this service at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.)
Leccionario en Español, Leccionario Común Revisado: Consulta Sobre Textos Comunes.
Para obtener más recursos leccionario, Estudios Exegético: Homiléticos.
Lectionnaire en français, Le Lectionnaire Œcuménique Révisé
Lecionário comum revisado (português)
The Holy Spirit falls upon the 120 gathered in a room in Jerusalem, and they proclaim the good news of the resurrection of Jesus Christ in the languages of all the people gathered in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost.
Psalm Response: Psalm 104:24-34, 35 b (UMH 826).
God sustains all creation. Which refrain might your congregation best "sing out" with this Psalm? "Praise to the Lord," (included in the psalm setting), or "Many and Great, O God Are Thy Things" (UMH 148), or "Cantemos al Señor" (UMH 149, especially the refrain), or "Praise Our God Above" (TFWS 2061)?
All creation has been waiting for us who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, the same Spirit who helps us pray when all we have may be sighs and groans.
John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15.
Jesus teaches what the Spirit will do: teach, reveal truth and falsehood, sin and righteousness, and continue to lead the followers of Jesus into all truth.
Today is one of the “three-ring circus” Sundays in United Methodism, particularly in the US. It is the Christian celebration of Pentecost. It is the denominational observance of Heritage Sunday. It is also the Sunday of the weekend of Memorial Day (US).
The United Methodist Book of Worship has clear guidance about how to handle days like today.
“Such special Sundays should never take precedence over the particular day in the Christian year. The special Sundays are placed on the calendar in the context of the Christian year, which is designed to make clear the calling of the Church as the people of God” (Book of Worship, 422).
The same guidance is reiterated about “special days” (including Memorial Day) (Book of Worship, 434).
So whatever you may do to observe or recognize Heritage Sunday and Memorial Day in worship today, keep Pentecost front and center.
Today is a day of days in the Christian Year, the culmination of the Season of Seasons, Easter. Just as the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday worship are intended to be a full-out celebration of the resurrection of Jesus, Pentecost for the church is a full-out celebration of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit for the ongoing inbreaking of God’s kingdom and ministries of disciples of Jesus in the world. Baptismal reaffirmation (if not baptism and/or confirmations), commissioning into ministry and Communion should all be part of today’s celebration.
So yes, worship today, even if you don’t address Heritage Sunday and/or Memorial Day in any substantial way, may run longer than one hour. There’s a lot to do, because there is so much to celebrate and get started with a bang! Just let everyone know ahead of time to expect this service to run a bit longer, and let folks leave early if they feel they must. Don’t shortchange the power and purpose of this day for the sake of those who insist on the clock. Truly, few will complain when they understand the extra time is time well spent. Celebrate well, eliminate the extraneous (announcements, longwinded “joys and concerns” or pastoral prayers, meandering sermons), and powerfully celebrate the sacraments with full rites (baptismal reaffirmation and Communion); and few, if any, will complain. They’ll be uplifted and glad they came!
Pentecost for Christians, like all “culminatory feasts,” is at once an ending and a beginning. Today marks the endpoint of the process of intense and intentional doctrinal and ministry training for which Easter season was created. It also marks the initiation and commissioning of people who have been so trained and formed into the ministries the Spirit has empowered them for and they have committed to pursue. Formation ends today, and accountable ministry begins in earnest!
The baptismal covenant in some form should be part of today's service. Be sure the font is in a prominent and easily accessible position for worship today, and be sure that it is filled with fresh water. If there are no confirmations or commissionings or installations of officers or baptisms, at least offer a powerful, embodied reaffirmation service using the Revised Baptismal Covenant IV or the new version used at General Conference 2008 (Spanish version). Also see "Using Water in Baptism and Reaffirmation: How Much and by Whom?" for guidelines.
For recognitions and commissionings, see "A Celebration of New Beginnings in Faith" (The United Methodist Book of Worship, 588-590), "An Order for Commissioning to Christian Service" (UMBOW, 591-592), "An Order for the Recognition of a Candidate" (UMBOW, 593-594), and our own “Pentecost Commissioning of Laypersons for Ministry in Christ’s Name.”
Heritage Sunday and Aldersgate Day
Heritage Sunday is also listed for today in the UM program calendar, as this day is also Aldersgate Day, the anniversary of John Wesley’s “heart-warming” experience at a Moravian Society meeting. The 2015 theme for Heritage Sunday is “Welcoming the Stranger.” The General Commission on Archives and History recommends you consider celebrating this at another time, so as to avoid potential conflicts with Pentecost and allow time for ample observance of both. Whenever you choose to observe it, a comprehensive list of Discipleship Ministries and Book of Worship resources for Heritage Sunday 2015 is here.
Memorial Day Weekend
Today is also the Sunday before Memorial Day.
Whether or how you will address Memorial Day in worship may depend on the composition of your congregation, how the purpose of Memorial day fits with your situation and the church year, your congregation’s perspective on whether it is proper to celebrate civic occasions in Sunday worship, and whether or how members of your congregation will also participate in the civic ceremonies that may take place on Memorial Day itself (May 25).
The composition of the congregation. Congregations whose core membership could be described as “boomers” (born between 1945 and 1963) may have relatively few people who have served or lost loved ones in the military. Congregations with larger percentages of older adults and younger adults may have considerably more because of their participation in the World Wars or the more recent actions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Keeping the Purpose of Memorial Day
Remember, Memorial Day in the US is a commemoration of people who died at any time as members of the military during US military action. It is not a day for recognizing the military in general. Veterans Day in the US is set apart to recognize all who have served honorably in the US military during wartime or peacetime. These distinctions are important to members of the military and should be kept in mind by churches when they seek to observe these days. The Veterans Administration website has more information.
All Saints/All Souls (November 1) is the day the church remembers all of our fellowship who have died, particularly -- though not only -- in the preceding year.
The perspective of the congregation toward celebrating civic occasions in worship. In all cases, Christian worship is the worship of our Triune God, and today, in particular, in celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit with power. Some congregations rule out civic celebrations as part of worship because such may give the impression that we serve another master other than Jesus Christ. Others find it appropriate to include civic celebrations as Christians in thanks to God for the gifts of being part of this civic society and as a pledge to be faithful to Christ in and through participation in it. Both perspectives are respected in our denomination. While you and your worship planning team may have your own ideas and preferences, your role is to know and reflect where your congregation is on this issue. It is an unwise pastor and planning team who would make the congregation’s understanding a matter of their own executive decision.
How your local community will offer celebrations on Memorial Day. If your local community or ministerial association will offer events on Memorial Day itself, there may be less need for significant time for such commemorations in Sunday worship. Sunday worship, especially on Pentecost, does not need to reinvent or try to compete with what the community will already do on Monday. Just be sure to include intercessions for all in military service, past or present, and let folks know where and how they can be part of these community events.
The Season after Pentecost (planning article for the whole season), also known as Ordinary Time, begins next week. Be sure in worship and in other ways to continue to build on the momentum and the discipleship and ministry formation work you have pursued from Lent through Easter Season by connecting people, especially those you may commission today, to accountable discipleship groups, such as a Covenant Discipleship Group. Such groups will support and encourage them, as well as challenge them, to continue growing in Christ (works of piety) and improving in their ministries in the world (works of mercy). For more information on starting Covenant Discipleship Groups, contact Steve Manskar (firstname.lastname@example.org) or click here. Here are two articles to get you started:
Practical Steps for Introducing Covenant Discipleship to Your Congregation
Flat Wesleys Help Children Learn and Practice Intentional Discipleship
Next Sunday, May 31, is Trinity Sunday, the first Sunday after Pentecost. Trinity Sunday is one of two (or three) “bookend” Sundays for this season. Trinity Sunday celebrates the mystery of the Triune Community within which those baptized into Christ live and move and have their being, and which sends us in ministry into the world. The other “bookend” may be either Christ the King (November 25) or All Saints Day (November 1). For those observing the “standard” Advent, Christ the King celebrates the reign of Christ now and at the culmination of all things. For those observing “Extended Advent,” All Saints marks the end of the Season after Pentecost as we recognize and give thanks for all who have faithfully ended their discipleship in Christ in this life.
What better, deeper, richer way is there to experience the fullness of the Trinitarian fellowship than at the Table of the Lord, where we seek the Father to pour out the Spirit to transform us and the gifts of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ that we may then be Christ's body in the world? A Great Thanksgiving for Trinity Sunday may help your congregation do this well.
Next Sunday is also Peace with Justice Sunday, one of the United Methodist Special Sundays that includes a special offering. Half of the funds stay in your annual conference to support peace and justice projects where you are. The other half supports the advocacy, peace and justice work of the General Board of Church and Society.
Asian-Pacific-American Heritage Month
Christian Home Month
May 24 Pentecost
Heritage Sunday/Aldersgate Day
May 25 Memorial Day (USA)
May 31 Trinity Sunday
Peace with Justice Sunday (Discipleship Ministries Resources)
June 21 Father's Day (USA)
June 24-28 Youth 2015
July 4 Independence Day (USA)
August 6 Hiroshima Nagasaki Memorial
In Western Pennsylvania, folks say "Let’s red up the haas” ("ready up" or prepare the house) when company is coming. Pentecost Sunday is an occasion to "red up" your worship space — literally! — to celebrate and invite the coming of the Holy Spirit. Don't settle for just focusing attention on stained glass or other art that may always be in your worship space! Add red, with maybe flaming oranges and yellows, lots of it. This is the final Sunday of the Great 50 Days of Easter, a high festal day. So whatever else you do with your worship space today, be sure to "red up the haas!"
But do more than “red up the haas.” Red up the congregation for powerful celebration today. Today is all about high celebration, powerful testimony, bold preaching, confident reaffirmation of baptism, hope-filled commissioning, fervent intercession for the church and the world, (which may in some cases from from sighs and groans too deep for words), joyous celebration around the Lord’s table, and explosive sending of all into the world in the name of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit.
This is no commemoration of an event long ago. It’s the realization of all the Spirit has been, continues, and will do in and through us for the transformation of the world.
So focus less today on explanation and more on exclamation. Church, it’s time to party!
Atmospherics: The Texts
Acts provides the main story, but not the only story, that explains our celebration today.
The Holy Spirit was made known and set loose in and through and beyond a group of 120 disciples of Jesus at Pentecost in Jerusalem. Thousands were changed that day as a result.
We celebrate not simply those thousands, but all the Spirit started doing then and is still doing today. There was holy hubbub—wind and fire, sound and sight (Acts 2:2-3). There was amazement and proclamation everyone could understand (verses 6-8). There was some scoffing (verse 13).
And there was prophesying.
Peter’s sermon that day quotes Joel’s prophecy. When the Spirit would be poured out on all flesh, as God had promised, children would prophesy, the youth would see visions, the old would dream dreams, across all social classes, bottom to top.
Even the heavens would declare their amazement, with a blood-red moon occurring recently because of a total lunar eclipse (which might date this to the year 29 A.D. based on records of total lunar eclipses).
In Romans, we see the Spirit at it again, moving into our minds and spirits to pray with signs and groans and through us when we have no words (8:26).
And in John, the Spirit comes to testify to Jesus, to call Jesus’ followers to do likewise (15:26-27). And more, much more. The work of the Spirit is to declare Truth by making a public display of the error of the world-system about sin, righteousness, and error.
Wherever we see these things happening in our midst, and around us and beyond us, the Holy Spirit is at work. And today we are called to celebrate all of these ways this Spirit works among us, and anticipate yet more as we recommit ourselves to the baptismal covenant and commission others to live out their discipleship and ministries faithfully.
In Your Planning Team
Find many ways to use reds, oranges and yellows, colors of flame, liberally in your worship space today.
But don’t stop with just visuals. As noted above, today’s texts from Acts, Romans, and Psalm 104 are extraordinarily multisensory.
Some congregations have several readers read the text from Acts in different languages all at once. To take a cue from the text itself, you might consider having a single narrator read verses 1-7a, then several readers in several languages reading verses 8-11 all at once, while you project or provide the words in the primary language of your congregation on a screen or in the bulletin.
Be authentic. If your congregation does not have people who speak other languages, don't fake it! Consider calling on persons outside your congregation to be readers today in yours. Or, more radically, consider gathering several congregations that speak different languages to join in worship today. In this way the very reading of the first lesson may become a celebration embodying the ingathering work of the Spirit before a single word is preached.
Invite the team to review the list of all the Spirit is doing in today’s text from the notes above. Then ask them to name people who can give a witness, a testimony, to the ways they have seen or been part of the Spirit doing these things in their lives. Consider making a video of people giving their witness, and inviting two or three to offer their witness (briefly) live in your service, whether as a response to the readings or as part of the message for today.
Romans invites us to consider a time of fervent intercessory prayer, prayer that may not even always be able to be expressed in words, but only in signs and groans as one might find in communal lament. Lament is in many places in our worship life in the US a lost practice, but one that is deep in the Christian and Hebrew biblical texts and traditions. The fullness of the work of the Spirit can be more deeply experienced within a worshiping community when we open ourselves to letting the Spirit move in us with sighs and groans too deep for words.
There are reasons to groan for the sake of the church and the world in our prayers, if we give ourselves even a moment to reflect on all we are called to lift before our God in prayer. Consider the suffering of families losing children and loved ones every day to preventable or curable diseases and hunger. Consider the intransigence of legislatures to take actions that truly benefit the whole people, and not just their most influential campaign donors. Consider the continuing decline of religious life in the United States, not just among United Methodists, but nearly all faith traditions. Consider the ways our actions cause harm and death to other life forms around the globe, with few signs of stopping, and the ultimate impacts of sea level rise that are already causing people to lose everything they have and relocate, and will only increase. Consider the suffering of people you know and who have asked you to pray for them. Give it time, let the Spirit move through your intercessions, and let the signs and groans come. Perhaps today the intercessions themselves may be a response to the reading of Romans, before the sermon, rather than placed at a later time of the service.
Then move back toward celebration after the sermon and the testimonies you’ve heard to baptismal reaffirmation (or baptisms, or confirmation, or receiving new professing members, or all of the above) and then commissioning persons you’ve been preparing throughout this Easter Season for their accountable ministries from this day forward. (Resources for this are linked above under Worship Notes).
And from there, move straight into a joyous celebration around the Lord’s Table, and a powerful sending into the world to live what we have celebrated, fervently prayed about, committed to, and been commissioned and fed to be: the body of Christ in the world, fed by his blood.
More About Lament
Lament begins with an honest spoken confession of the sorrow and real losses we or others have experienced.
But it is more than just words.
The biblical psalms of lament were written in a specific meter sometimes called "the limping dance," intended to accompany ritual movement that expressed the depth of sorrow and pain the words related.
So for Christians, lament includes allowing those groanings of the Spirit within us to be expressed openly and physically in the worship setting.
At this writing, police shootings and killings of African American males over the course of this past year remain much in the news. Christians of many denominations are continuing to enter into mourning for these events, proclaiming Black Lives and All Lives Matter—groaning with the Spirit’s call for justice.
May the groaning of the Spirit in these tragic and unjust deaths and the sin and brokenness of the world-system it reveals be heard in the halls of power this Pentecost!
This is just one we may be called to lament and groan this day.
This Memorial Day weekend, congregations in the US may wish to spend particular time groaning and lamenting for the losses of life and health experienced by soldiers and people involved in this nation’s most recent wars as well.
To open space for such lament in worship means expecting and welcoming tears, sighs, moans, even cries of pain with and for those suffering around us. Trust the Spirit's movement, and do not quench it. Prompt the congregation to come into awareness and connection with those groanings in their hearts, and then guide them to let them out.
And remember: Biblical lament never stops with loss and pain. It always moves toward a reminder of the trustworthiness of God, and it often ends in a confession of trust, or even praise. See Psalm 22 or Psalm 130 as classic biblical examples of psalms of lament.
For an article from Reality magazine (New Zealand) on lament and implications for ministry, click here. For an example of a lament form for use by people or congregations facing disasters, see our collection of over 200 resources for Times of Crisis. For more on the practice of lament in Christian worship, see Lament: Reclaiming Practices in Pulpit, Pew and Public Square.
If your congregation has not practiced lament, the simplest path toward it is to pray deeply with a comprehensive form of bidding prayer. Simple bidding prayers are available in The United Methodist Hymnal (877, 879) with musical accompaniment for this form available in The Faith We Sing (2201). A fuller form is available in The United Methodist Book of Worship (495). For these forms of bidding prayer to work well as a prompter for deep congregational lament/intercession, you may want to enter the time of prayer with some prompting on how to groan, and even practice some congregational groaning. You will also want to ensure that there are people prepared to offer specific examples that express the real pain of the world in relationship to each petition. Be sure to include the nations in the ecumenical cycle of prayer — Botswana, with Swaziland (for whom we pray next week), which has the world's highest incidence of AIDS and AIDS deaths. And be sure to give enough time and prompting for the congregation truly to groan with that pain as they lift it to God in prayer.
At the end of any of these forms of prayer, you may also want to add a closing collect or call and response that gathers up the pain and expresses trust in God to help the congregation and those who suffer to find God's saving presence and power in, through, and beyond it. For a good sample of "public domain" concluding collects, see The Book of Common Prayer, pages 394-395. (See pages 46-47 of the hyperlinked pdf file.)
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Call to Worship: BOW 200, "May the Warm Winds of Heaven" (Acts)
Greeting: BOW 390 (Pentecost, Acts)
Greeting: BOW 406 (Acts; “And in the last days…,” ¾ down under Day of Pentecost)
Greeting: BOW 382 (Romans)
Opening Prayer: BOW 464 (Romans)
Canticle: UMH 406, "Canticle of Prayer" (Romans)
Call to Prayer: BOW 214, "Spirit of God" (Acts, John)
WORD AND RESPONSE
Songs of Lament from The Faith We Sing (Response to Reading from Romans)
- 2110, "Why Has God Forsaken Me?" — Meditation on Christ's desolation in his death.
- 2180, "Why Stand So Far Away, My God?" — A strong challenge to God in the tradition of the psalms of lament
- 2209, "How Long, O Lord?" — Based on Psalm 13
- 2216, "When We Are Called to Sing Your Praise" — Verse 2 is especially appropos — "Remind us, God, that you accept our sad laments in prayer; you, too, have walked the shadowed way and know our deep despair."
- 2217, "By the Babylonian Rivers" — Based on Psalm 137
Prayer of Confession: BOW 482 or 489 (Acts, “Almighty and all-loving God,” 3rd item)
Prayer: UMH 329, Prayer to the Holy Spirit (Acts)
Prayer: UMH 542, Day of Pentecost (Acts)
Prayer: UMH 574, For Renewal of the Church (Pentecost)
Prayer: BOW 426 (Heritage Sunday)
Prayer: BOW 440 (Memorial Day)
Prayer: BOW 407 or 408 (Acts, John, Romans)
Revised Baptismal Covenant IV or the new version used at General Conference 2008 (Spanish version)
Prayer: BOW 544, For Leaders (Acts)
An Order for Commissioning to Christian Service BOW, 591-592
An Order for the Recognition of a Candidate BOW, 593-594
Pentecost Commissioning of Laypersons for Ministry in Christ’s Name
Confirmation Hymn: BOW 223, "O Holy Spirit" (Acts)
Ecumenical Prayer Cycle: Botswana, Zimbabwe
THANKSGIVING AND COMMUNION
Great Thanksgiving for Pentecost: BOW 68-69
Sung dismissal with blessing (Benediction): BOW 218, "Benediction for Pentecost" (Acts, John)