May 15, 2013

Celebrating Pentecost

What if the Church threw a party and nobody came?

Pentecost, one of the church’s great feast days, is on Sunday. It recalls the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles and other early followers of Jesus.

My childhood church didn’t make a big deal of the day, but we did read the lessons from Acts.
Even though they were praying in the story, I always imagined the scene more like coffee hour, a big room filled with dozens of different conversations, kids running around parents’ legs, playing impromptu tag. Some loud talkers pivot in one corner, whispers in another, laughter mixed with gossip and prayer concerns. Suddenly rushing wind and tongues of fire sweep through the room, and this cacophony becomes coherent. People start to understand each other in new ways – and like the disciples, become emboldened to go out and tell the story of the risen Christ.

It's a pretty amazing story with so much to teach and challenge. But it seems Pentecost too often slips in like another event at the end of the school year, somewhere on par with graduation Sunday and church school cookout.

Pentecost should be a big deal – or at least, a bigger deal than most of us make it.

To be fair, I’ve heard and experienced a variety of relatively low-key celebrations. Some churches have a birthday cake to celebrate the day as the birth of the church. One congregation decorated with red balloons and streamers. Another offered liturgical dance with flames of fire in red and orange fabric flitting down the aisles. Some churches invite members to join the liturgical color swap and wear red. Others deliver the reading from Acts in different languages, creating a sensory commemoration of the first Pentecost.

Still, Pentecost is a little like the (red-headed) stepchild of key feast days of the church. Christmas and Easter get weeks of special services and events. Even the secular world takes notice and markets a whole array of merchandise for the celebration. But I haven’t seen one display for Pentecost decorations at the local Wal-Mart.

So I'm making the case for Pentecost to be a big deal. Big-box stores, here's your chance to prop up second-quarter balance sheets. And church members, celebrate. Claim the joy of Pentecost. Embrace the mystery of the Holy Spirit. Throw a party good enough that everyone will come.