Sunday, 19 May 2013


Pentecost is considered the birthday of the Church. It's the day we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit, the promised helper, to dwell in Jesus's followers. To Christians it is a great day of celebration. We think of the disciples sitting in the Upper Room; we remember the heavenly wind and the tongues of fire resting on their heads; we repeat Peter's speech, declaring the wonders of God to those around him.

However, the importance of Pentecost goes further back than the New Testament. When the Israelites were making their way through the desert, after Moses had led them out of Egypt, they received God's word at Mount Sinai, and God came to dwell in the Tabernacle. The Festival of Shavuot, or Pentecost, came to be celebrated 50 days after Passover, and was originally a Harvest Festival. However, it also became a time when Jews celebrated the giving of the Torah, which legend has it occurred 50 days after the first Passover. So, 50 days after Jesus rose from the dead, Jews were gathered in Jerusalem celebrating God's gift of the Commandments on stone tablets. And on that same day God gave His Holy Spirit and wrote His Law on people's hearts. As Jesus said in Matthew 5:17, He came to fulfil the law, not to abolish is. Pentecost shows us how that fulfilment is to take place - God's presence is to dwell in His people, keeping his law safe in their hearts, so that they will keep it.

"‘This is the covenant that I will make with the people of Israel
    after that time,’ declares the Lord.
‘I will put my law in their minds
    and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
    and they will be my people." (Jeremiah 31:33)

The disciples were good Jews. They knew the order of the festivals; they attended the Temple. So they would have been watching for something to happen, and they would most likely have been expecting that something to happen on Shavuot.

"Something exciting was going to happen. Jesus had said as much at Tabernacles, the first pilgrim festival of the year, when the Temple was packed with visitors. (John 7) Something about rivers of living water. Then he died at Passover, the second pilgrim festival.Who knew what he might do on the third? And if he rose on the barley harvest, he almost certainly had something in store for Shevuoth." (A Little Kosher Seasoning - Michele Guinness)

Isn't that amazing? The Old Testament events were always pointing forward to Jesus and the events that would surround Him. God knew what He was doing. Through providing them with a history, He enabled the disciples to understand and expect. And it ensured that the relevance of the Pentecost events would not be lost on the Jewish pilgrims at the Temple to celebrate Shavuot that day.

Traditionally, the Church has taught that the disciples - not just the Apostles, but about 120 men and women - were gathered in the Upper Room together. Logically, this seems unlikely. Michele Guinness, amongst others, suggests otherwise, for 120 is a lot of people to be cooped up together and the likelihood would be that they, along with other "good Jews", would be attending Temple as on other festivals. The Hebrew word for house is the same as the word for Temple.

"Once the geography of the event is right, it changes the whole perspective of things.
There they all were, in a fever of expectation, surrounded by the noisy hub-bub of thousands of out-of-town visitors and cousins. At nine o'clock silence falls for the traditional early morning readings. First from Deuteronomy, an account of the giving of the Torah... Then from the first chapters of the book of the prophet Ezekiel. "High above on the throne was the figure like that of a man. I saw from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire." Suddenly, to the congregation's utter amazement, tongues of fire appear, and hover over the heads of Jesus' followers. The priest, hoping he's hallucinating, tells the reader to continue as if nothing has happened. "Then the Spirit lifted me up, and I heard behind me a loud rumbling sound..." At which point a sudden loud whooshing sound fills the building. Prayer shawls flap with its force, head coverings are lifted and debris scattered. And then the disciples begin to shout things in foreign languages, and roll around on the floor as if drunk... Peter takes control of the situation. He knows exactly what is happening. He has had seven weeks to work it out. God, in one blow, is fulfilling all the promises he has ever made to his people." (A Little Kosher Seasoning - Michele Guinness)

Wow! It would have been absolutely awesome to experience that. God fulfilled His promises in a show of power, majesty and glory. Shouldn't we be making more of our Pentecost celebrations?

In our house we have a cheesecake party every year on Pentecost Sunday. Dairy products are eaten traditionally during Jewish Shavuot celebrations. This has 2 possible reasons behind it: The promised land of milk and honey that the Israelites were on their way to, or that when Moses told the people the laws, including the dietary ones, they were too eager to eat that they didn't have time to kill and prepare meat properly, so opted for dairy products instead. Either way, you can't go wrong with a cheesecake!

How do you celebrate Pentecost?