Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Makings of Pentecosts

Pentecost Sunday has always been a mixed bag of emotions for me. Raised in a Pentecostal church, trained theologically in Pentecostal theology, it tends to get lost in the negative feelings that I harbor today, for various reasons. Every Pentecost Sunday, however, I find it convicting because regardless of what I've made it or even what certain churches have made it, there is a valuable meaning, most of which I try, today, to derive from scripture.

Pentecost is one of the oldest feasts celebrated by the New Testament church. Its roots are mostly found in the Feast of Weeks in the Old Testament, roughly fifty days after Passover and traditionally known as the time that the law was given to Moses. That is all the history I am going to deal with but I am sure one of my more capable fellow Bloggers will give a detailed account of its progression, both biblically and traditionally. It's definitely a rich and diverse study well worth its time and attention.

But, I am going to dismiss (at least for a moment) all the tradition and history, and deal exclusively with Acts chapter 2 as we have it today. What made Pentecost? What did it ultimately mean and do for the church of the first century? I really am not concerned with all the extraneous things related to it today as we have it in our various liturgies. However, in the beginning, what was it that made that day special for those people in Jerusalem and why do we still acknowledge it today?

Jesus had ascended, the disciples were no doubt confused and doing the only thing they knew to do: what Jesus said. They gathered together in this room and they began to pray. I wonder what they prayed? Ever consider that? Jewish prayers? I mean, surely there were no Book of Common Prayers, Methodist hymnals, or responsive readings going on in that room that particular day. No, I can only imagine that the prayers being lifted were impromptu prayers that one prays when everything is falling apart - the kind of prayers that one prays when his/her world has stopped turning and he/she has no clue what to do or where to go....

My heart goes out to these men and women gathered, praying, and lost in so many ways. Of course, thankfully, the story doesn't end there or we probably wouldn't be thinking about Pentecost 2000 years later. No. Jesus told them that it was expedient that He go away because another was coming. Remember? (Jn14) What did He mean by that? I can feel my theological resistance rising within me. Another? Himself in different form? A second Savior? What was He saying?

This is where I bow to that which I do not know. But, I watch, in scripture, as it speaks of a stirring. This was the remnant; 120 people left after all the thousands who had heard Jesus' voice and listened as he tried to show them a more excellent way. All those he healed, loved, and liberated; 120 were left and they were praying for what? Even they really didn't know.

Before we go any further, let me quickly identify a few ingredients that I see in that band of people on that first post Easter Pentecost Sunday. First thing I see is that they were all in the same place. Now, that might sound simple. But if one has ever been a church leader, ever tried to lead a function, chair a committee, and/or quell a controversy he/she has found out quickly that people do not naturally herd together well. That is not a harsh criticism; God made us. But, here, they were all together in the same place.

Secondly, and more amazingly, they were in one accord: unity! I wonder how many churches celebrate Pentecost where there is so much division and strife often sitting alongside one another on the very same pew? Don't answer that, please! But, seriously, they were together and in one accord. Did that mean they all knew what was going to happen? Did that mean they all understood it after it happened? I don't think so. But, what I do think it means is that they were all convinced of their need for Jesus. Here, I will turn Pentecostal for a moment: if the church is to ever recapture the energy and Divine intervention that rushed into being that day, it will and must become convinced that its only need is Jesus.

As they were doing all this, something began to happen. You see, when we loose the essence of what scripture speaks about, we replace it with liturgy, tradition, baptisms, etc., don't we? I am not saying for a moment (anyone who reads my blog regularly knows that I have no problem with these things) that these practices need to be phased out. I certainly think the locus of Church history supports much of what we traditionally do today on Pentecost. But, wouldn't it be great to have one Pentecost Sunday somewhere akin to the one here that we're considering today? Has our ideas of God and Divine become so mundane that we confine him/her to liturgy found on page so and so? Can't God do it again?

I know these are rhetorical questions, but I just can't help myself but ask. We could go on and analyze the story further and find ourselves in a quagmire of theological controversy (i.e. what are tongues and what does it mean for the church today?). I don't care about all that. However, the product of Pentecost, and I end this post with this, was that Jesus was once again proclaimed in the streets of Jerusalem. And ultimately, as a result, He was taken to the four corners of the world by these men and women who met together in one place and in one accord. That to me, is the true message of Pentecost Sunday.

May He do it again!

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