The ability of our culture to commercialize almost every holiday and festival is truly stunning. When the words “commercialization” and “holiday” are brought together, the first thing that probably comes to mind is Christmas. What began in the late fourth century A.D. as the Church’s celebration of the incarnation of the Son of God, has become for our culture a time of Santa Claus and gifts. It has become a crucial part of the business cycle that can make or break a company’s year.
We have just celebrated another festival that has been commercialized in amazing ways. Easter is the celebration of the Resurrection of Our Lord. It is the oldest Christian feast – a feast celebrated since the very beginning of the Church. Yet for our culture Easter has become focused on a bunny that hides colored eggs. It has become a time to sell chocolate, baskets and fake plastic grass.
However, our culture doesn’t do the third of the major Christian festivals – the Feast of Pentecost. It has not created an alternative mythology with which to secularize and commercialize it. It has not created a figure like a fat, jolly man in a red suit or a large bunny. Stores don’t stock special items for the Feast of Pentecost. In fact, the Feast of Pentecost comes and goes in the Church year without the world even noticing.
Yet this observation raises a question about the Church today: Our culture doesn’t do Pentecost. Do we? In the case of Christmas and Easter, there are factors outside of the Church that help to raise our awareness about these festivals – even if it is for the wrong reason. Beginning before Thanksgiving, the stores put up Christmas decorations that remind us Christmas is coming. In the time before Easter, stores put out candy and decorations that play a similar role. Nothing like this occurs before Pentecost. Does this play a role in the fact that today, Pentecost receives little recognition from many Christians?
People are very intentional about coming to Church on Christmas Eve and Easter Sunday. In fact for some people, these are the only two times in the year when they come to church. However, very few people are intentional about coming to church for the Feast of Pentecost. Perhaps the timing of Pentecost plays some role in this. Pentecost is always fifty days after Easter. Depending on when Easter falls, Pentecost often occurs just as the school year is ending or as summer has just begun.
While all of these things may be factors, it appears that the main reason for our failure to emphasize Pentecost is that we no longer really understand its importance. For the early Church, Pentecost was first a season before it became a day. The word “Pentecost” described the entire fifty day season that followed Easter. Before too long, the word was applied specifically to the Feast of Pentecost – the event in which Christ poured out His Spirit upon the Church. The life of the Church placed great emphasis on the Feast of Pentecost. From the fourth century on in the early Church, Easter and Pentecost were the two primary days when baptisms were done. Just like Christmas and Easter, Pentecost was proceeded by a service on the evening before the day – Pentecost Eve. The Church did this because she understood the importance of Pentecost.
Before His ascension occurred forty days after Easter, Jesus commanded His apostles to remain in Jerusalem until they received the Holy Spirit. Our Lord promised, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). When this event occurred, Peter told the crowd that it was a fulfillment of the prophet Joel’s prophecy, “And in the last days it shall be, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh” (Acts 2:17). Peter proclaimed that this event was a sign that the end-times had begun.
The outpouring of the Holy Spirit began a new era as Jesus Christ extended His saving work into the world through the work of the Spirit. Jesus had promised on the night of His arrest, “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me” (John 15:26). Our Lord said, “He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:14).
It is the Spirit who creates faith in Christ, for Paul tells us “…no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3). It is through the work of the Spirit that we are able to call upon God as Father. Paul says, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:15-17).
The Holy Spirit was the agent brought who about the incarnation as the Son of God was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary. The Spirit was the One who was active in raising Jesus from the dead. And the Holy Spirit is also the One who will be at work in raising us from the dead. Paul wrote, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you” (Romans 8:11).
All of these things are directly tied to the incarnation, death and resurrection of the Son of God. The end-time salvation that was begun in Christ – the “now” of our salvation – is made present for us through the work of the Holy Spirit. The unique end-time work of the Holy Spirit is tied to the unique end-time work of the Son. At the Feast of Pentecost, we rejoice in the fact that God’s Gospel work is being extended through the work of the Holy Spirit, whom Christ poured out upon the Church. The work of the Holy Spirit creates and sustains faith in us now, and points us to the return of Christ and the resurrection that God will work through the Spirit on the Last Day.