This Sunday is Pentecost. Imagine a full congregation, everyone dressed in red – women in red dresses, jackets and scarves; men with red sport coats and ties; children with red shirts of all kinds. Wouldn’t it be spectacular! (NC State fans would feel right at home.)
Red is the liturgical color for Pentecost. Red signifies the tongues of fire recorded in Acts 2. A sea of bright red lifts us up in praises to God. For God is now experienced as Holy Trinity through the raising up of Jesus from death and the moving of his spirit, the Holy Spirit, in our midst. Pentecost is a great day in the Church, second only to Easter. Come celebrate Pentecost with heart, mind and every tongue that you possess. Come celebrate in the upbeat mood of red!
For thousands of years, this has been an important day for believers. In Jewish tradition, Pentecost was called the Feast of Weeks or Day of First Fruits and it fell roughly 50 days after Passover. For Jews, it came to commemorate the giving of the Law. For Christians, Pentecost describes that great day we read about in Acts 2, 50 days after Easter, 10 days after the Ascension, when the Holy Spirit filled those first followers of Jesus. This led to unusual manifestations, the initial Christian sermon, multiple baptisms, and the beginnings of a communal Christian fellowship. It’s our birthday, in other words – the birthday of the Church. We have a right and an obligation to celebrate.
What happened at Pentecost was a huge breath of fresh air. Think of all that occurred that day, starting early in the morning: a mighty rushing wind, tongues of fire dancing over the heads of the 120 believers. Peter’s first sermon followed by 3,000 baptisms, then the gathering together of the believers as they shared all things in common.
But I left out the most amazing phenomenon of all, didn’t I? On that great day of Pentecost as the believers were filled with the Spirit, they began to speak “in other languages.” This is often called speaking in tongues, glossolalia. Suddenly and without prior knowledge, various disciples began to speak out in foreign languages about the power of God, sort of like you suddenly witnessing for Christ in Russian or Chinese, never having learned those languages. Later there were believers in places like Corinth who also spoke in
tongues. But their speech, also called glossolalia, was not usually in foreign languages but rather in nonsense syllables, which would occasionally yield to a spiritual interpretation.
At Pentecost, the variety of languages brought unity and transformation. The great mark of Pentecost is that the Holy Spirit came upon the faithful. As they unexpectedly and mi- raculously spoke many languages, the Church was born in a holistic witness to Jesus Christ which still goes forth today in all the languages of the earth on the lips of those who know and use those languages to the glory of God.
Pentecost was a major pivotal point in history. You know how a game can turn on one big play – that home run in the seventh inning or a fourth quarter touchdown. That’s what Pentecost is – the turning point.
Whereas the Nativity had been the dawning of possibility, and Easter the dawning of hope, Pentecost is now the dawning of certainty, the day of fulfillment. Whereas Jesus’ resurrection had been shrouded in mystery and astonishment, whereas Jesus’ ascension brought loneliness and wonderment, Pentecost represents joy breaking forth in community – the great new day of the people of God. When the Spirit came that first Pentecost, all of history was changed. Ever after, the followers of Jesus, bound together in a community of love, would learn to speak in many tongues so as to give glory to God.
The followers of Jesus stood poised that first Pentecost, poised on tip-toes peering into an uncertain future. Then the Spirit descended, creating a turning point in their lives as tongues were unleashed and the Church was given birth amidst the chaos of the ancient world. We stand today in the middle of an even more chaotic and complicated world. And I believe the Spirit stands ready once again to create a major turning point into the future. Once again, tongues will open the way for the Church to be the Church. Many, many tongues of all kinds. But for this to happen, we must open our minds to God, our hearts to the Savior, and our lips to the Holy Spirit who will inspire us and speak through us.
See you on Red Sunday, Rick