Christians, especially of the Reformed species, don’t often do a good job of celebrating. We are good at self-reflection and somberness. We are good at staring into suffering and acknowledging sin. But we don’t do so with much hope; we often focus so much on our sorrow over sin that we forget to celebrate who God is and what He has done in our lives. For example, as a pastor, I’ve been guilty of turning the Lord’s Supper, a time of historic celebration in the Church, into a sad, melancholy practice.
But if you know anything about Church history, you know that it hasn’t always been this way. How has the Church historically combated this drive toward lament and contemplativeness? The answer may surprise you: They used the Church Calendar.
We often focus so much on our sorrow over sin that we forget to celebrate who God is and what He has done in our lives.
Most of us orient our lives around a calendar whether we realize it or not. This calendar tends to be either the school calendar, for those of us with school-age kids, or a bevy of secular or secularized holidays. How many of us have thought, “If I can just make it to Thanksgiving,” or “Starting in the new year”? Our lives are informed, planned around and shaped by this annual cycle.
But what if instead we oriented our lives around God’s redemptive story by celebrating and contemplating the gospel? Our entire lives would be shaped and formed by God’s story. Imagine how our lives would be a testimony to our children, coworkers and neighbors if we planned dinners and holidays and celebrations around the seasons of the Church Calendar. Celebrating Pentecost is one way we could do just that, and I would argue that the result will be life-altering.
The Church Calendar orders life in such a way that the people of God spend seasons reflecting and seasons celebrating, seasons fasting and seasons feasting. Through this rhythm, the Church can avoid becoming imbalanced, acknowledging its sinfulness and suffering while celebrating that God did not leave His people alone in their sin. Whereas Lent is a season of reflection, Pentecost is meant to be a season of celebration.
The Bible talks about Pentecost in Acts 2:1-4:
When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
As we see in the book of Acts, Pentecost is the day that Christ, the Son of God, sends His people the Spirit of God, thereby marking the birth of the Church. Before Christ came onto the scene, Pentecost was a Jewish agricultural feast to praise God for the firstfruits of the harvest that occurred 50 days after Passover. This is where the name comes from, as Pentecost actually means “fifty” in Greek and comes from a Christian expression meaning “50th day.” Yet, just as He reoriented the Passover meal around Christ in the sacrament of Communion, God reoriented this Jewish celebratory feast around the birth of the Church. For Christians, Pentecost transitioned into a time to celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit, the firstfruits of the Resurrection.
To be clear, I am not proposing that we celebrate Pentecost out of a desire to carry on an Old Testament tradition or because it is ordered in the Scriptures. In that sense, none of the seasons of the Church Calendar are required or ordered in the Scriptures. I’m merely proposing that we celebrate Pentecost, like the other seasons, because celebration is the fitting response to the reality that God has given His Spirit to those whom He calls. It is a chance for God’s people to reflect on the fact that the Church started with this gift, it is maintained by this gift and it will be consummated by this gift.
As Christians, we must be a reflective people, and these reflections should stir up nothing less than worship and celebration. During the season of Pentecost, we are called into a season of celebrating God’s gift of Himself, the Holy Spirit, to the Church. As we look back on this event in Acts, we celebrate God’s goodness and faithfulness to His people. By reorienting our lives around the story of Jesus and His Church, we will discover that we have much reason to celebrate.