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Pentecost
Christianity's most under-rated holiday

Pentecost, the season of the Holy Spirit, is otherwise known as the "birthday of the church." In theory, Pentecost should be recognized, along with Christmas and Easter, as one of the three most important holidays of the Christian Church. Here's why.

Where the term "Pentecost" comes from

Pentecost (or "the 50th day" in ancient Greek) is a holiday of Christianity commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles, fifty days after the resurrection. (In the UK, it is referred to as Whitsunday, because of the white robes traditionally worn this day by those newly baptized.)

The Christian holiday also derives from the Hebrew celebration, Shavuot, which was held 50 days after Passover and was associated with the first harvest of grain in the spring. The Jewish holiday, also referred to in the Bible as "the feast of weeks," came to be identified with the revelation on Mt. Sinai when Moses received the Ten Commandments. It may also reflect still older, pagan festivals celebrating the return of life to nature following the "death" of winter. Given the importance of Passover, the Sinai tradition and the spring harvest festivals to both Jews and early Christians, one begins to understand the significance of Pentecost.

Why is Pentecost so important for Christians?

It is connected to Christianity's central image of God as Trinity. Over many centuries Christians have come to understand God in three ways. First, as God the Creator in nature; second, as the Son, in the story of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus; and finally, as Spirit. The Spirit represents God as living and active in the world today. It signifies the fact that the Christian faith is not just about events that happened in the past, rather it concerns the present and the future. The Spirit is God's animating presence in the church, and indeed, in life itself. Hence, without its Spirit, the church is dead, and without the Spirit, all that is creative and wonderful in life itself ceases to exist.

Is there is a difference between celebrating Pentecost and Pentecostalism?

You bet. As we have seen, Pentecost is an important holiday for nearly all Christian denominations. Pentecostalism, on the other hand, is a movement within Christianity that has resulted in the creation of, according to some estimates, 11,000 different denominations around the world.

For more about Pentecostalism

Books about Pentecostalism

Books about Pentecost

What is Glossolalia / Speaking in Tongues?

For the story of Pentecost from Acts 2

For a meditation on Pentecost

For more about the Holy Spirit

For more about the Trinity

Charles Henderson

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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and author of Faith, Science and the Future, published in 1994 by CrossCurrents Press. He is also the author of God and Science (John Knox / Westminster, 1986) which he is now rewriting to incorporate more recent developments in the conversation taking place between scientists and theologians. He has also written widely for such publications as The New York Times, The Nation, Commonweal, The Christian Century and others.

For further information about Charles Henderson.