The Work of the People
Like many long-time Nazarene folk, I was “at church” within a few days of birth. With very few exceptions, I was there nearly every time the doors of the church were open. Like an old preacher used to say, “I cut my teeth on the back of a pew.” That being said, my earliest memories of gathering with God's people consists of seasons of celebration. There was the “hanging of the greens,” during the Christmas season along with lighting the advent candles each week leading up to our Christmas service. I also vaguely remember some discussion, each year, of Lent, leading up to our celebration of the resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday. Oh...and we always had the children marching in waving palm branches for Palm Sunday. We celebrated Mother's Day, Father's Day, Grandparent's Day, Thanksgiving, and, oh, I almost forgot, we even had a Halloween party. Some years, that party even included a “haunted house.” Boo!
For the life of me, though, I don't ever remember a real celebration of Pentecost. We may have sung a hymn, or even two, about the Holy Spirit. I don't remember. My pastor may have preached from Acts 2, on that day. I just don't remember. Since graduating from Trevecca in May of 1992, I've served congregations in GA, WV, MI, MO...and I've never participated in a Pentecost celebration. If I have, I don't remember.
A Short History
In the Hebrew Bible, feasts and holy days were, ultimately, about remembering. Through these seasons and times of celebration, peoples' minds and hearts were rooted in the memory of God's intervention in the lives of His people. One such celebration is Shavuot (Leviticus 23:9-22)...also called: The Feast of Weeks (Deuteronomy 16:9-12), The Day of First-Fruits (Numbers 28:26-31), The Feast of the Harvest (Exodus 23:16-19), or the Feast of the Fiftieth Day (Pentecost)...and, eventually, The Festival of the Giving of the Torah.
Within scripture and rabbinical tradition, the Jew, both ancient and modern, is called to a season of remembrance and anticipation. It all begins on the second day of Passover with the wave offering of first-fruits (Omer), ending forty-nine days later with Shavuot, or Pentecost. During the intervening days, what is known as the Counting of Omer takes place. For the Jew, the counting reminds them of the important connection between Passover, commemorating the Exodus, and Shavu'ot, commemorating the giving of the Torah. The Exodus was a deliverance from physical bondage in Egypt. The giving of Torah was a redeeming from their bondage to idolatry and immorality. One writer makes the observation that Shavu'ot “reminds us that the redemption from slavery was not complete, until we received the Torah.”
The Need to Remember
In our increasingly distracted and forgetful world. I believe we need to remember. I believe we need to remember those times, both personally and corporately, when God has intervened in our lives. Scripture records multiple times throughout human history with God when people built altars of worship to serve as reminders of what God has done and continues to do among His people. The expectation was that people would return to these places, whether in passing or intentionally, and remember, telling their children about the mighty acts of God. As it pertains to Pentecost, I think we are missing an enormous opportunity to remember and remind.
In Acts 2, we see a promise fulfilled. In the midst of the wind, fire, confusion, proclamation and response, we read this:
“For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far away, as
many as the Lord our God will call to himself.” (Acts 2:38 NET)
We are recipients of that promise. We have reason to remember. Beyond the history, tradition and theology...though our worship, obviously, must be informed by all of these...there are some practical ways we can personally and corporately celebrate a season of Pentecost.
Here are a few ideas.
- Create a corporate devotional reading plan that focuses on the person and work of the Holy Spirit. The unfortunate reality for many Christians is they have spent more time reading what others have to say about the work of the Holy Spirit than reading and meditating on what scripture says.
- Integrate corporate readings of selected scriptures within your worship plan for the weeks between Easter and Pentecost.
- Get creative! If you are in a technology-rich worship setting, use that tech to remind God's people of the person and work of the Holy Spirit. From simple “scripture slides” to elaborate audio-visuals that integrate music, scripture, photos and video, the possibilities are endless
- Low-tech, have you ever heard of card-board testimonies (insert eye-roll, if you must)
- Speaking of testimonies, I bet you have some folks who can give a powerful testimony of the transforming power of God in their lives.
- Multi-staff – create a strategy/plan together where the themes of Plan/Promise, Power/Proclamation and Perseverance/Prayer become the umbrella emphases between Easter and Pentecost.
- The book of Ruth is read during the Counting of Omer season, among Jews. Though there is no definitive reason for this, some emphasize the provision of God through our doing justice and loving mercy. As we recognize that God has made us rich in our poverty, we are called to do the same. Empowered for service by the Holy Spirit, we can find ways to serve our community in this season. Many make a commitment to deny themselves during Lent. It would be appropriate to commit to a season of service to others between Easter and Pentecost. Who knows, maybe a weekly trip to serve meals to the homeless will blossom into a life-transforming commitment to step outside of ourselves.
- The Empowered Witness – Jesus emphasized the fact that the Holy Spirit would empower us to be a witness to the world. The Pentecost season offers a great time for an emphasis on proclaiming the Gospel to the nations.
- Equipping the church – A series of gatherings to challenge and equip the body for action would be appropriate in this season. A thoughtful discussion of each member being uniquely gifted for ministry might just lead to a revival of “lifestyle worship” both within and without the walls of our buildings.
- Color – White is the traditional color of the season that is counted between Easter and Pentecost, replaced by red for Pentecost Sunday. Get creative. Hang some banners.
Have an idea? How does your local congregation celebrate Pentecost, if at all? I would love to hear from you and have an ongoing discussion with anyone who, like me, wants our worship to grow beyond a few songs we sing and an offering we bring.
-James St. John is the worship pastor of Freedom Church, Milledgeville, GA. A 1992 graduate of Trevecca, he is married to his best friend Marjorie (Hall) St. John and has five children. If you would like to reach out or stay in touch with James, please feel free to contact him by e-mail email@example.com