Rev. Lawton W. Posey: Celebrating the Holy Spirit
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Are you a Pentecostal?
One Sunday I was speaking to the children of the congregation I served. It was Pentecost Sunday, so I wished them a "Merry Pentecost." I received only puzzled looks. I believe I asked the kids also if they had received any Pentecost cards from family or friends. The looks were even more puzzled, and I suppose some thought that I was the "silly preacher."
What I had asked the children of the congregation about Pentecost might have also been received as strange. A visit to the local card shop might have turned up a Pentecost greeting, but in my visits to those purveyors of sentiment, I have seen none.
For Presbyterians in my youth, there were few special days, as each Sunday was thought to be a celebration of Easter. To tell the truth, there was something scary about the notion of Pentecost. For a serious and subdued people, the notion that God's spirit could so energize the congregation that it might burst forth in cheers of joy was a daunting prospect to us, as we were serious, rational people.
But now, visiting a serious Presbyterian church, you might find the minister wearing a red stole about his or her neck. Congregants might appear in red clothing. One reading might be from the book of the Acts of the Apostles 2:1-4. In that passage, the followers of Jesus began to experience uncanny things. The room is filled with a mighty wind. The followers are alarmed at the sight of tongues, as of fire, descending upon them. Then, on top of that, they began to speak in new languages, as the Spirit gave them the power to do so.
So, no wonder. Suppose such a powerful experience had been the experience of a hundred serious people, gathered in a plain chapel on a spring Sunday. Indeed, let us exclude this from the calendar, and stick with Easter and Christmas.
When a young person comes walking down the aisle of the church where my wife and I worship, holding a colorful banner high, a banner made up of streamers of yellows and reds, swirling in the breezes generated by the ventilation system, my heart leaps up.
Pentecost. This year Pentecost falls on May 27, 50 days after Easter. In fact, Pentecost means "fifty," and is not only a Christian festival, but one celebrated by Jews as well. For our Jewish spiritual ancestors, 50 days after Passover, there is a celebration of the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai. So for somewhat different reasons, Pentecost is about gifts. The Commandments are understood as a divine gift. The Spirit of God is understood as a divine gift.
Your church or spiritual community may celebrate Pentecost in various ways. Your community may take little notice of the day. Other Christians may have made Pentecost and traditions associated with the day a central focus of the church's beliefs. Thus, there are churches that are called Pentecostal, and groups who claim that they are Pentecostal while remaining in their own religious communion.
Now, this has been a ramble through church tradition and history. There is so much more. Still, for many of us, it is possible that Pentecost is somewhat disturbing. We may fear the fire and the mighty wind. In fact, in one of the great prayers of the church we pray for deliverance from tempest and fire. These are to be greatly feared.
Still, there is Pentecost, a day set on the church's calendar. What are we to make of it? For some, perhaps the one who is writing, there is a ragged prayer addressed to the Lord. It is the prayer of many: Lord, do something, please! For some, Pentecost is a time of promise, less on physical display and more on a response to our prayer: Come Holy Spirit. For yet others, there may be the anguished cry that by fire and wind our sins may be purged away, and our lives made new for service to the world.
Lord, send down your spirit and renew the face of the earth (Psalm 104:31). Posey, who lives in Charleston, is a retired minister from the Presbyterian Church U.S.A.