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30 April 2013

Pentecost: the forgotten festival?

Andy Frost, director of Share Jesus International, and a member of the Alliance Council, explores this important festival in the Christian calendar.

Pentecost used to be a big deal in the UK. Churches would gather and march through town centres. Brass bands and choirs would play in the streets. There was even a special bank holiday on the Monday up until 1971. But somehow, Pentecost seems to have been lost from society and even from our Church calendar.

And I think it's time we re-discovered the celebration of Pentecost. Here are four reasons why:

First, Pentecost is a celebration of life. The term Pentecost comes from the Hebrew term shavuot which means seven weeks. It marks the 50th day after the Passover. Fifty days after the first Passover, the wandering Israelite tribe had arrived at Mount Sinai. Moses came down from the mountain top with the Law, to find the people worshipping a golden calf. That day, 3,000 people were executed. Some 1,500 years later, as the disciples were catapulted out of the upper room; they had received not the Law but the Holy Spirit. As Peter gets up to preach, anointed by the Spirit, 3,000 people respond to the message of good news and join the Jesus movement. Pentecost is in its very essence a celebration of new life.

Second, Pentecost is a reminder that all are welcome. We read the incredible stories in the Old Testament of the Spirit of God dwelling in or coming upon certain individuals who had a specific calling from God. This powerful anointing was available but only for the few.

But when Peter begins to preach in Acts 2, he quotes Joel 2:28: "And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions." Pentecost is a reminder that we can all receive the Holy Spirit. Whether we are Jew or Gentile, black or white, young or old, we can know salvation as the Holy Spirit seals it.

Third, Pentecost is our birthday. Lesslie Newbigin writes: "On that day (Pentecost) we may say that everything was ready for the Church's life to begin. Christ's atoning work had been completed. His revelation of the Father in word and deed was complete. The nucleus of his Church was chosen and ready … And yet they had to wait. All was complete: and yet nothing was complete until the Spirit of God Himself should be breathed into the new race of men."

It was at Pentecost that the Holy Spirit ignited the disciples to be the Church. Too often we celebrate our own fellowship's anniversary, which is great; but we, as one Church, should also learn to celebrate our birthday together.

Fourth, we should celebrate Pentecost, which this year takes place on Sunday, 19 May, because it is a call to evangelism. In Acts 2, we discover the disciples had prayed; they had been empowered by God; they had left their building and they had started to communicate the good news.

In the UK, we have begun to discover that we can't just wait for people to turn up in our buildings on a Sunday morning. Over the past five years in London, the Pentecost Festival has used the tag-line "the Church has left the building" because we are not bricks and mortar. We are the people of God.

Pentecost is a reminder that we need to enter a hurting world to share God's love with hurting people. The disciples were supernaturally gifted with the ability to communicate in the language of the day and we must do the same.

As Jerusalem was full of different people groups, so the same is true today. We live in a society packed with different tribes and tongues. There are so many sub-cultures that range from the urban hip-hoppers to the suited and booted City bankers, to the football fan who travels the country religiously following his team. Each culture has its own language, which is more than mere words and which dictates dress, values, behaviour and belonging.

As we spill out of our church buildings, it is important that we communicate the message of Jesus to these sub-cultures. The message does not change but the way in which we reveal it has to show its relevance. And if we are going to communicate to the culture, we need to listen to what the culture is saying.

There is a church that I pass regularly that has luminous pink sign with big black letters that states "Jesus is the answer!" This sign for me sums up something of the communication issue that we have. We tell the world that the answer is Jesus but we have rarely taken the time to discover the question. Pentecost is about communicating relevantly the truth of Jesus.

And so, I am asking for your help. Will you help the Church rediscover the potent message of Pentecost and more importantly, will you help this nation discover the message of Pentecost?

I believe the Church needs more parties and fewer meetings and so over the next three years we aim to take the Pentecost Festival nationwide under the banner: "The Biggest Birthday Party ever!" We would love to see Pentecost put firmly back on this nation's calendar.

For more information, check out pentecostfestival.co.uk

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