Let’s celebrate Pentecost

It’s the Church’s birthday and an opportunity for us to focus on the gifts and power of the Holy Spirit in our lives, says Jo Roberts

Pentecost was described by St John of Chrysostom as “the peak of all blessing”, “the capital of feasts” and “the very fruit of our Lord’s promises”. However, this feast of feasts is not as widely celebrated as the other major festivals of Christmas and Easter. Pentecost brings the Easter season to an end, hailing completion, fullness and fruition. It is not a solemn feast, but a time for energy, action, movement, and fresh commitment. Celebrating Pentecost with your family teaches children about the power and gifts of the Spirit, and it remind us of our call, and refreshes and invigorates us.

Its origins are in the Jewish festival of the First Fruits. In Leviticus, we read of two first fruits festivals, the first was for the barley which was offered at Passover. A period of counting of 50 days began from Passover, during which time the barley crop would ripen and be harvested. The first to ripen was baked into two loaves and offered to the Lord at the temple; this was the second First Fruits and is the feast of Pentecost.

Pilgrims would travel to Jerusalem to bring their offerings and thus the city was full of pilgrims when the story of Pentecost in Acts 2 begins to unfold. Following the ascension of Jesus, the disciples were waiting, as instructed, for the counselor that he  promised would come after he had left.

They had spent the period after the resurrection huddled together in retreat, but once the Holy Spirit arrived, they were empowered to go out and they astounded those who heard them speak. The Holy Spirit had taken hold of them with rare power and the many people who responded to their message were the beginning of the church. They were the first fruits of a different kind of harvest – one that Jesus had spoken of during his ministry.

Pentecost means fiftieth, which relates to the 50 days from Passover, the festival also falls on the fiftieth and last day of the Easter season. It is the last major festival of the Christian year, from here we move into ordinary time, roused and empowered to serve and bear fruit.

The Symbols of Pentecost

The symbols of Pentecost are attractive and evocative. You can have fun using them to decorate your home and meal table.

+ The dove is a familiar symbol for the Holy Spirit derived from the story of Jesus’ baptism. In Scripture, the word that is used for the Spirit is ‘ruash’, meaning wind, and when the spirit came there was the sound of a “mighty rushing wind”. It aptly conveys the mysterious, unseen power of the Holy Spirit.
+ The liturgical colour of Pentecost is red: the colour of fire, zeal and passion. It was chosen to symbolise the flames that appeared over the heads of the disciples. Two June flowers have become associated with the feast: the red peony, which is known as the Pentecost Rose and Columbine, which is thought to resemble a dove.

Ways to celebrate

+ Decorate your home: Cut dove shapes from white card and hang them in a window to dance in the breeze. Tie red steamers to fans. If you have more time, you could make origami doves or make a mobile of doves and flames.
+ Go outdoors and place simple home made wind mills around the garden. Make and fly a kite or make a wind sock.
+ Have some fun: Blow up red balloons to play with and wear red clothes.
+ Make your meal special: Use a red table cloth and napkins, and decorate your meal table with candles and scattered red rose petals to represent tongues of fire.
+ Be hospitable. The Holy Spirit came to all, regardless of race, colour or background and the Spirit works to transform and break down barriers. Invite someone to go to church with you and join you at home as you celebrate.
+ Bake a cake: To celebrate the birthday of the Church, decorate a birthday cake for dessert. Use 12 candles to represent the disciples, nine red fruits (strawberries or cherries work well) to symbolise the fruit of the spirit (Galatians chapter 5) and 11 small flowers for the gifts of the spirit (1 Corinthians chapter 12:7-11). The children can blow the candles out with a mighty rushing wind!*
+ Share together. Sitting around a meal table is one of the best ways for families to connect, talk and learn together. There are several appropriate Bible passages that you can read and discuss: Acts 2, 1 Corinthians 12, Galatians 5, Ezekiel 37:1-4, Psalm 104 and Joel 2:28-29. Before reading about the gifts and fruits of the spirit, see who can be the first to correctly name all the gifts and fruits. Each one can then choose a fruit that they would like to see develop in their life throughout the rest of the year.
 Other suitable readings include the beautiful poems ‘God’s Grandeur’ by Gerald Manley Hopkins and ‘Pentecost’ by John Bennett.