Christian churches around the world celebrated Pentecost earlier this month on Sunday, June 9, 2019. Pentecost is the festival during which Christians celebrate the receipt of the Holy Spirit by the apostles 50 days after Jesus rose from the dead on what has become Easter Sunday. Pentecost is considered the beginning of the Christian church and its mission to the world.
The New Testament records how Jesus walked among his disciples for 40 days after his resurrection, showing himself to them while teaching them about God. Acts 1:1-8, thought to be written by the Apostle Luke as a sequel to his Gospel, tell it this way:
The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which he was taken up, after that he through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen, to whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God, and, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me. For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence. When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you, and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.
The First Pentecost
On what was to become the first Pentecost, the disciples, Mary, the mother of Jesus, and about 120 others gathered in an “upper room” to celebrate the Jewish Shavuot or the harvest Feast of Weeks. Acts 2:1-4 describe what happened next:
And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
Pentecost Date and Traditions
The word Pentecost means 50th, and Pentecost occurs 50 days after Easter. Since the date of Easter changes each year based on the appearance of the first full moon after the vernal equinox, the official beginning of spring, the date of Pentecost likewise changes from year to year. This year it was June 9, and Christian churches around the world celebrated it.
In the West, priests and ministers often wear red vestments signifying the tongues of fire the Holy Spirit set upon the disciples. Many western churches also decorate their sanctuaries with red flowers, as well as red banners signifying the blowing of the wind on the first Pentecost.
Eastern churches, on the other hand, celebrate Pentecost with the color green, which signifies the color of spring plus the life and growth parishioners are expected to experience through the coming of the Holy Spirit. Priests, ministers, and parishioners often carry green branches or shrubbery throughout the Pentecostal service.
Whatever the color used, Pentecost is the day to celebrate a new beginning, whether it be for the new church founded by Jesus, the giving of God’s wisdom to the disciples by the Holy Spirit, or the renewal of that spirit within oneself.