In 2020, Pentecost Sunday is May 31st. The Christian observance of Pentecost recalls the coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:1–13, which was witnessed by travelers, or pilgrims, from all over the Roman world. Christians understand this event to mark the beginning of the Church. We can see the hallmarks of church activity in Acts 2:43–47, as the community of believers met regularly, prayed, worshiped, shared meals, practiced charity, and spread the Gospel message.
Did you ever wonder, though, why all of those people were in Jerusalem in the first place? Or why the day when the Holy Spirit came was already known as Pentecost? On Pentecost the Jews celebrated two events, one historical and one occurring annually. Jewish people still celebrate these events today, and they refer to this celebration as Shavuot (shah-voo-oat), a Hebrew word meaning “weeks.”
The historical event is the giving of the law, as represented by the Ten Commandments, to Moses on Mount Sinai. The annual event is the spring harvest, primarily the wheat harvest. Farmers would bring sheaves of wheat or loaves of wheat bread to the Temple in Jerusalem, along with the first fruits of other crops, as an offering of thanksgiving. You may see this celebration referred to as the Feast of Firstfruits, although in that sense it is the continuation of a festival that begins during Passover and continues for fifty days.
Pentecost is one of three pilgrimage festivals in the Jewish calendar. You may be able to think of another one pretty easily.* The third might not be as familiar: Sukkot is a seven-day festival that takes place in the fall; it commemorates the wandering in the wilderness after Israel’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt. During Sukkot, Jews eat some of their meals in shelters known as sukkahs that are usually open to the sky except for a roof of some sort of vegetation.
Worshipers attending church on Pentecost Sunday in our time mark the event by wearing something red to commemorate the tongues of fire. Churches are decorated with images of doves or tongues of fire, the two visual representations of the Holy Spirit that we see in the New Testament. Sermons, Scripture readings, and musical selections emphasize the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer and the work of the Spirit in spreading the Gospel message and reviving the Church.
Like the Roman census ordered by Caesar Augustus, which brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem for the birth of Jesus, this Pentecost brought people from around the Roman world to Jerusalem so that they could have a life-changing encounter with Christ and Christ’s disciples.
How has God used seemingly unrelated events in your life or in the lives of others to accomplish his purposes?
*Passover is one of the other two pilgrimage festivals in the Jewish calendar. Simon of Cyrene, who was conscripted to help Jesus carry the cross, was probably in Jerusalem for the Passover (Luke 22:36). The merchants and money changers in the Temple would have been doing a brisk business at Passover (Luke 19:45–47) with people coming from all over the known world to purchase, then sacrifice, an animal or a bird in the temple.
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