But there’s a bit more to it than that. An important event took place at Pentecost. After Jesus death, resurrection and appearances to his followers, tradition says that he ascended into heaven. Prior to his departure, he instructed his followers to wait in Jerusalem for the arrival of the Holy Spirit. On Pentecost, that Holy Spirit arrived with no small amount of noise and commotion!
At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was made known in the room where the disciples were praying by a loud noise. It sounded like a rushing wind and there was also the presence of spiritual fire. The Holy Spirit entered the disciples, gave them the ability to communicate in multiple languages and, most importantly, transformed them from cowering to courageous followers of Christ who then went out and formed the church.
There are, however, important pre-Christian origins to this holiday that are good to remember. Pentecost was (and is) a Jewish holiday. That is why the disciples were gathered together in Jerusalem in the first place and it is also why the city was packed at the time of the Holy Spirit’s grand arrival.
In early Judaism Pentecost was the Festival of Weeks (Hebrew: Shavuot). It was a harvest festival that was celebrated seven weeks after the beginning of the harvest in Deuteronomy 16:9 or seven weeks after the Sabbath in Leviticus 23:16. The Festival of Weeks was also called the feast of Harvest in Exodus 23:16 and the day of first fruits in Numbers 28:26. In Exodus 34:22 it is called the “first-fruits of the wheat harvest.” The date for the “Feast of Weeks” originally came the day after seven full weeks following the first harvest of grain. In Jewish tradition the fiftieth day was known as the Festival of Weeks.
After the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, Pentecost in the Jewish tradition also took on the focus of giving thanks for the Law given by God on Mount Sinai.
I like the combination of Harvest and the Holy Spirit that Pentecost represents when you combine Jewish and Christian traditions around this day. For us, as followers of Jesus Christ, the arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is the harvest of Christ’s ministry. It is the time when disciples then and now can reap the power, guidance and motivation of the Holy Spirit.
As we celebrate Pentecost this year (Sunday, May 20th), may we harvest the fruits of Christ’s ministry anew in our lives and in our church to bring about greater peace, harmony and hope in our world!