Day of Pentecost
Pentecost falls seven weeks, or fifty days, after Easter; the Greek word Pentēkostē literally means “the fiftieth day.”
In the Old Testament, “Pentecost” refers to the Feast of Weeks, a seven-week agricultural event that focused on the harvesting of first fruits. And Josephus, a first-century Jewish historian, referred to “Pentecost” as the fiftieth day after the first day of Passover.
In the New Testament, “Pentecost” refers to the coming of the Spirit shortly after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension:
“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each” (Acts 2:1-6, NRSV).
Christians came to understand the meaning of Pentecost in terms of the gift of the Spirit, and the Pentecost event as the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise concerning the return of the Holy Spirit.
Speaking in tongues, a manifestation of receiving the Spirit, is interpreted by some to symbolize the church’s worldwide mission, and Pentecost is thought to be the origin of sending the church out into the world.
The celebration of Pentecost emphasizes that the church is the body of Christ, drawn together and given life by the Holy Spirit.
The Day of Pentecost is identified by the Book of Common Prayer as one of the feasts that is “especially appropriate” for baptism (Book of Common Prayer, p. 312). Because of this, Pentecost has also been known as “Whitsun” or “Whitsunday” (“White Sunday”), a term used to reflect the custom of those who were baptized at the Vigil of Pentecost to wear their white baptismal garments to church on the Day of Pentecost.
— from An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church: A User-Friendly Reference for Episcopalians, Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors (Church Publishing Incorporated, 2000), all rights reserved.
cc photo by Bill McChesney