It happened to me years ago, in Europe on a Sunday in May, and a French friend said to me in French, “Bonne Pentecôte” which means “Happy Pentecost.” I wished her the same but observed to myself: Does anyone ever wish anybody else “Happy Pentecost” back in the States?
Nope. It’s never happened to me. Not yet. And it’s too bad because Pentecost is a major holiday, a big feast day, an occasion to observe with much celebration. Think of it as the church’s birthday. Imagine a cake at your church with nearly 2000 candles on it and sugared writing, “Happy Pentecost!”
Jesus didn’t leave behind him a massive organization. He didn’t create a lengthy constitution with a long list of rules. He didn’t build a magnificent building. He didn’t even leave behind a book (that would have to be created by others).
What He gave His followers were stories that they shared endlessly, sayings that they mulled over (and we continue to contemplate), the practice of breaking bread and drinking wine in community and the vivid–and sometimes painful–memories of His Crucifixion and Resurrection.
He kept promising that in his absence He’d send them the Holy Spirit to guide them. I don’t doubt they must have been mystified by that. What was this Spirit He promised? How would they know when it arrived? And how would it help them?
They found out on Pentecost. Christ had died and risen and come back on earth before leaving for good. Now that he was gone they were scared. What were they going to do? How were they going to put the life-changing love they’d gotten from Jesus to work? How was it going to happen?
According to the book of Acts, they were gathered together in Jerusalem, when a sound from heaven like a fierce wind filled the house and “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:4).
This gift of “tongues” was a means of communication. They could suddenly speak to their fellow Jews in Jerusalem who had come from every different nation. They could be understood. They had power that they didn’t know they had, and they could spread the good word that they had heard.
Because of them, the good news spread to a few hundred and then thousands and over the years to millions and now billions. This was the beginning of the church. This is why that day, Pentecost, has been celebrated over the centuries and is celebrated today.
It’s the birthday of the church, the place where you worship whether it’s a magnificent cathedral, a school auditorium, a gathering of believers on a sandy beach or in a friend’s living room. “Happy Pentecost!” we can say to one another. “Happy Birthday, church!” Because of the Spirit, because of Jesus, because of His love, we’re here.