Pentecost Sunday is a glorious day of celebration in the church. It is the day on which we remember the Holy Spirit appearing among the members of the first Christian community. This is the day on which we commemorate the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles, and the day on which we celebrate the presence of the Holy Spirit within us, and among us.
Pentecost (also known as Whitsunday) is one of the seven principal feasts of the church year (in church tradition it’s always been second in importance only to Easter), and it’s good to remind ourselves that it’s a feast: It is a day on which we are to figuratively “gorge” ourselves on its particular meaning in our lives as Christians.
With the events of this day the Easter season comes to an end. The Paschal candle, signifying the presence of Christ among us, which has burned in our midst since the Easter Vigil. Beginning with the Feast of Pentecost, the flame of love that burned in Christ alone, now burns in us by the power of the Holy Spirit. And the significance of Pentecost has a lot to do with why we come to church.
The Rev. Eric H. F. Law in his book “The Wolf Shall Dwell with the Lamb,” observes that there two miracles in the Pentecost event. The first miracle was the ability of the disciples to speak in different languages. When the day of Pentecost had come the disciples were all together in one place: attentively, watching and waiting for whatever it was that Jesus had said would happen. Then, without warning and seemingly out of nowhere, there came the sound of a roaring wind. It filled the entire house where they were sitting. At that moment, the Holy Spirit swept through their ranks like wildfire. Suddenly, they were all speaking at once about God’s deeds of power—and they were speaking in all the languages of the world.
The second miracle of Pentecost is often widely overlooked. While the first miracle is the gift of speaking by those out of power, the second miracle is the gift of listening by those in power. Each hear the words being spoken in their own language. They are not hearing a variety of tongues all spoken at the same time, a meaningless cacophony of noise. Rather, those gathered from throughout the known world, each hears and understands what the disciples are saying. While some sneered, many were amazed and immediately recognized the sacredness of this moment. On that day alone, the disciples received 3,000 new converts.
Both miracles are necessary for Pentecost to have meaning. If the disciples could not speak in the languages of those present, they could not communicate God’s message. If those listening could not hear the words in their own languages, God’s message would have been lost in the chatter. The meaning of Pentecost and, perhaps, a central mission of the church, is for those without power to speak and to be understood and for those in power to listen and to understand.
There are people of faith who, with God’s help, are recreating the Pentecost experience. They are not preaching at others. Instead, they are carrying out the mission of the Church by working to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ. They are loving their neighbors. They also are enabling their neighbors to love others by helping these neighbors first to love themselves.
In our Baptismal vows, we are to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ. We are to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves. We are to strive for justice and peace among all people. We are to respect the dignity of every human being. What better way to carry out these vows than to listen to those who have the smallest voices? No one can describe God’s deeds of power better than one who is without power him or herself. We need the two miracles of Pentecost to be a church.
So, to the question, Why do we come to church? My one-sentence answer would be, “We come to church to learn the meaning of Pentecost as explained by the two miracles that occurred on that day: learn to hear the truth, see the truth, speak the truth, and do the truth.” God enables us to do these things through the gift of the Holy Spirit; a gift we celebrate today: The Spirit of truth.