Pentecost and the Church Year



Last Sunday was Pentecost.   I've not spent much time in local churches celebrate the Church Year liturgy.  Every church has a liturgy, be it less formal or not, and most churches have some kind of typical calendar.  The Evangelical churches I've been a part of celebrate very few Christian holidays.  Sure, every local church I know celebrates Christmas and Easter, Christmas Eve and Good Friday; but what about Pentecost?

Before I get into Pentecost, I probably need to give a brief summary of the Church Year (also referred to as the Liturgical Calendar or Christian Calendar).  The Church Year is a visual representation of the historical narrative of gospel redemption and the life in the New Testament Church.

Different traditions break the year up differently; but for the most part, the 'seasons' look the same.  The first season, which, by they way, does not start on January 1st, is called Advent.  It typically begins about a month before Christmas and consists of four Sundays.  Advent is a season of anticipation of our coming Savior.

The second season is called Christmas.  It lasts 12 days, starting with Christmas Day.  (There's a song about the 12 days of Christmas.  If you didn't know why there was 12 days, now you know.) Because we celebrate Christmas on a fixed calendar date, the date the Christmas season is not dependent upon Easter (more on this below).

Next comes Epiphany.  Epiphany means a disclosure or unveiling and this season represents Christ's earthly ministry.  Various traditions mark special days within this season, but they are not all in agreement about which days to draw more attention too.  Epiphany begins January 6th and can last as much as nine weeks depending upon which Sunday Easter falls.  Epiphany ends when the season of Lent begins.

Lent begins 40 days before Easter.  It is intended to be a time of preparation.  According to T J. German, Lent started as a week long fast but was extended to 40 days in the 7th Century.  Depending on the tradition, every Friday of Lent is a day of abstinence.  Prayer and fasting are important.  People of some traditions abstain from a desired item as a way to anticipate and long for the coming of Easter.  In addition, Holy Week is the last week of Lent and refers to the last week of Christ's earthly life.  The First Day of Lent is typically called Ash Wednesday.

Easter is the name of the most holy day of the Christian Year and it's the name of the next season.  Easter is a movable feast, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus.  It is connected with Passover because Christ raised from the tomb on the Sunday following Passover.  Technically, Jewish Rabbis determine the day for passover. But to simplify when Christians celebrate Easter, it is set on the first Sunday after the first full moon occurring on or after the Spring equinox.  The Easter season is 7 weeks long and includes The Day of Ascension.  (Some traditions include Pentecost as part of the Easter season too.)

The final season, which represents life in anticipation of the consummation of the Kingdom, is either called The Season After Pentecost or Ordinary Time.  On occasion, this season is all called Pentecost.  Some traditions place the Day of Pentecost in the Easter season, some have a one week break between seasons, and some open the season with the Day of Pentecost.  No matter how you break it up, last Sunday was the Day of Pentecost.

Pentecost is an interesting holy day.  In the Old Testament is was actually called the Feast of Weeks (Exodus 34:22 and Deuteronomy 16:10).  It was to be celebrated seven weeks after the Paschal Feast.  In other words, 50 days later, there would be another feast.  The Greek word, pentekostos, means fifty.  The celebration was originally designated to celebrate the first fruits of the harvest (Leviticus 23:17-20 and Deuteronomy 16:9-10).

Jesus was crucified on Passover.  He was the perfect sacrificial lamb and the perfect completion of the Exodus foreshadowing.  What a remarkable connection to the lamb in Exodus.  In that event, the lamb was sacrificed so its innocent blood could mark the homes of those the angel of death would passover.  It is fitting that Jesus would be crucified on the day of a celebration about sacrifice, just as it is fitting that the Holy Spirit would come on a day that traditionally celebrated the harvest.  

Before Jesus ascended to heaven, he instructed his disciples to wait in Jerusalem.  They waited and prayed.  They also replaced Judas, who had betrayed Jesus.  Then, Acts 2 opens by stating that the day was Pentecost.  It was on that day that the Holy Spirit came on the disciples and filled them.  It was also on that day that people witnessed the impact of the Spirit and questioned what was happening.  Peter, being filled with the Holy Spirit, stood and preached.  3,000 people became believers that day.  Talk about some first fruits of the harvest!

Some church traditions don't make a peep about Pentecost.  I come from such a tradition and I find that sad.  What a great day to celebrate.   What a great way to remember and learn.  Some traditions, however, celebrate baptisms on Pentecost.  That is a remarkable picture of the working of Christ.  I think this is one Church Year holy day that ought to be celebrated with a little more gusto.  And if that can be done with baptisms, all the better.  I don't know what the church I pastor will do next year, but I hope it's more than I've done in the past.

Welcome to Pentecost, The Time After Pentecost, or Ordinary Time. . . depending on your persuasion.