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On Pentecost, the Church Celebrates Its Birthday

Guideposts blogger Rick Hamlin on the meaning and celebration of Pentecost, 50 days after Easter.

On Pentecost, the church celebrates its birthday.
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Get out the candles (you’ll need a lot of them), order a really large cake–one big enough to carry greetings in every tongue possible–don’t worry too much about presents because the gift that was first given keeps on giving. If it feels like a birthday party, that’s because it is one. Wish each other “Happy Birthday” on Pentecost. It’s the birthday of the church.

It all goes back to 50 days after that first Easter–50 days if you count both Easter and Pentecost. In fact, Pentecost means the 50th day. The disciples were gathered that Sunday in Jerusalem when a noise like a fierce wind filled the house and individual flames of fire seemed to land on each of them.

“They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak,” says the Bible (Acts 2:4).

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More significantly, the multi-lingual crowd that was drawn by this uproar managed to hear the disciples in their own languages.

Point of fact, the gift of the Holy Spirit wasn’t simply a gift of talking–although that’s there–but a gift of hearing. All those foreigners could suddenly understand. What was foggy or vague or impenetrable was clear. Happy Birthday, Happy Pentecost.

Jesus had talked about this moment. He’d warned them that it was coming. He’d urged the disciples to stay in Jerusalem and to gather together because the Spirit was coming. I’m sure they wondered what He was talking about but they did what he said, and here it was. Those tongues of fire floated overhead and the words came.

People accused them of being drunk. Peter responded–in one of those deliciously authentic sounding passages you get in the Bible–saying, “These people aren’t drunk…It’s only nine o’clock in the morning.” I fight the urge to tell Peter, “Nine o’clock in the morning hasn’t stopped some people.”

Okay, it’s an alcohol-free party, but the best part is free for the taking, for anyone willing to be baptized. “Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit,” says Peter. “This promise is for you, your children and for all who are far away–as many as the Lord our God invites.”

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Like I say, the cake should be big with lots of candles. God invites many. But most tellingly the gift comes when everybody is together. The disciples will face new trials when they spread the gospel–persecution, imprisonment, even stoning, but for now, they need to accept this gift of the Spirit. En masse.

So drop into a church this Pentecost. The best way to receive the Spirit is with a group of other believers, like those disciples gathering at the first Pentecost a couple thousand years ago.

It’s a party. It should feel like one. It’s as big a holiday as holidays can get. Happy Pentecost.

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