This past Sunday, May 23, was celebrated as Pentecost in the Christian calendar. You may know that Pentecost, as a Christian event, originates with the story in Acts 2 of the gift of the Holy Spirit to Christ’s followers in the form of wind and of fire and of speaking in tongues (people speaking in foreign languages but being understood by all those around them). The event gains further emphasis from the sermon of the apostle Peter addressed to the large crowd that had gathered, apparently numbering in the thousands, following which about 3,000 persons believed what they heard and were reportedly baptized. This mass conversion is sometimes recognized as the actual beginning of the Christian Church.
As both an event and a word, “Pentecost” has some fascinating history behind it. Much of it that is directly related to its Christian significance is easily found from many sources. For example, the word “Pentecost” literally means “fifty” or “fifty days.” It marks fifty days since Easter. (Actually, it is seven weeks since Easter, so technically only 49 days – but that may be quibbling.) I found an article titled, What is Pentecost and Where Did it Come From? that explains the Jewish heritage of the day in a clear and concise a manner. I encourage you to read the article.
Among other interesting facts is that, although it was also known as “Pentecost” in the Jewish tradition, it also had an alternate name of the Festival of Weeks: seven weeks of seven days (a “week of weeks”) since the feast of the Passover. As you will recall, it was the celebration of Passover that had brought people into Jerusalem in the week before Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. The Festival of Weeks had brought people into Jerusalem from many nations of the known world – thus the opportunity for the miracle or gift of “speaking in tongues” that was a manifestation of the Holy Spirit for Christ’s followers.
On Sunday, the Beyond the Walls online service from the Toronto congregation took on a very interesting challenge to mark Pentecost. The planners set out to have 50 languages spoken during the service, taking that cue from Pentecost’s meaning of “fifty” as well as the cacophony of languages reported in Acts 2. They fell slightly short with “only” about 40 languages represented in the service. It was still quite remarkable. A person speaking each language read a portion of scripture related to Christ’s ministry. The screen showed the language – often in its own script rather than the Arabic-based script of English writing – as the person read the few verses of scripture, along with its translation into English, French, and Spanish. If you have not seen the service, it can be found here: Testify in 50 Languages.
The story of Pentecost in Acts 2 is a representation of the impact of faith in the public square. Peter had to assure those watching that the people speaking in strange languages were not drunk. (It was apparently too early in the morning for that!) Then, having defended the language (and sobriety) of his friends, Peter preached the good news of Jesus Christ to the assembled crowd and, according to the record, convinced a good portion of these unbelievers to believe and to respond by being baptized.
The lesson for us is to not be ashamed when some element of our faith becomes visible to those around us, and that to then confidently share what that faith is all about may have more positive influence on those people than we might expect. It is a call to courageously share our faith more often.
As always, I pray for you God’s blessings of joy, hope, love, and peace in these challenging times.
Canada West Mission Centre President
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