Plan a Pentecost party

Apr 20, 2016 by

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This coming May 15 is the day we will celebrate Pentecost Sunday. My overall enthusiastic response to that appears in the lyrics of a song written by late gospel legend, Andrae Crouch: “Let the church say amen.”

I don’t know how many others feel this way, but I personally feel that the celebrations for Pentecost should be as big as the Super Bowl, the World Series or the Olympics. And the holy day did not just begin in Christendom, but it has foundations in ancient Jewish traditions. In fact, the Jewish equivalent to our Pentecost is Shavout — or the Festival of Weeks.

It is riveting to realize that all the contemporary faith communities adhere to the same definition of Pentecost, that is, it is the “Birthday of the church,” specifically, the commemoration of the day the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles and other believers who were assembled in the upper room in Jerusalem (as Jesus had promised them). The word Pentecost itself is the derivative of a Greek word meaning “five” — or any manifestation thereof. For example, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., is a building with five sides, and the Pentateuch is the first five books of the Bible.

In a larger sense, Pentecost means 50 days after Easter; some churches represent that as 49 + 1 (Easter Sunday), which is exactly the same thing. It occurs seven weeks after Easter Sunday each year, and all of the remaining Sundays of the ecclesiastical year are named for the Sunday after Pentecost on which they fall, for example, the fifth Sunday after Pentecost, or the 8th Sunday, or the 15th Sunday after Pentecost and so on until the next Lenten season. We all agree on that!

In the Western Hemisphere, Pentecost is often represented by the color red. In our church, the local Anabaptist church, we have beautiful deep red banners emblazoned with golden flames of fire. We hang those in the front of the sanctuary at this season, acknowledging that red symbolizes joy, and the fire of the Holy Spirit.

In some communities, priests, ministers and choirs wear red vestments, and today this custom has spread to the wider congregation.

I have found through research that some of the Eastern Orthodox churches have traditions that would edify us and add spice to our own celebrations if we were to adopt them. For example, it is normal for them to hold special vespers, and even all-night vigils on the Eve of Pentecost. These services include a practice called the “kneeling prayer,” which includes three sets of long poetical prayers, during which everyone makes a full prostration, touching their foreheads to the floor.

That may be a little challenging for some of us, myself included, because we may get down there and not be able to get back up again! However, I’ve found that people generally tend to enjoy seeing, hearing and doing something new.

Another extraordinary feature of the Eastern celebrations is the fact it lasts three days. This is a time of feasting and festivity, and the afterfeast lasts for one week. Fasting is not allowed during this period. I am down for that!

The world has rapidly become a global community during the last 30-40 years; therefore we do not have to confine ourselves to what is happening with our own four walls. The Anabaptist Churches have often borrowed from other traditions, including the Taizé Community in France, from Africa, Asia, Central and South America and others. Therefore, whatever we do for Pentecost this year, I invite congregations to make it special. I say, let banners be boosted. Let cornets (or shofars) blast! Hoist balloons and drape festoons. Use liturgies from the present; borrow some from the past. Pentecost is a party. Why not celebrate first-class? Come on.

Brenda Isaacs is a retired Mennonite pastor, author and part-time teacher in the Court School System who lives in Bakersfield, Calif.

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