Faith Works 5-18-13
Winds of change, flames of celebration
We Christians occasionally note that the prevailing culture likes to snap up religious holidays and turn them into occasions for merchandizing. Which it does, because that's what our culture does.
In a capitalistic market economy, opportunities to make money will be seized by someone, and if there's a better way to find a profit, competition will either push the prices down or make the product more widely available . . . which is how you get mountains of junk shipped here from Shanghai every November for Christmas presents at every possible price point and color combination.
Even Easter, with evocations of Spring and hints of fertility across the landscape, gets everyone of whatever faith tradition the chance to buy pastel candy eggs and brightly colored new clothes.
So it might be a good sign, from a religious leader point of view, that no one has figured out how to make a buck off of Pentecost.
Fifty days after Easter, hence "pente" like pentagon, but with the ending for "times ten," Pentecost is described in the New Testament book called "The Acts of the Apostles," or just "Acts," in the second chapter.
It marks the descent, or "pouring out" of God as Holy Spirit on the gathered community of believers, praying together in the upper room where they had last been with Jesus less than eight weeks before. They were united in a spiritual experience that both spoke to each of them individually, and bound them to one other in an ecstatic awareness of the divine presence that filled them and overflowed them so much that . . .
Well, the stated initial reaction was "Yo, Peter, a little early in the morning for hitting on the cheap wine!" (You can look it up. Acts 2, remember.) They were happy, and joyful, and singing, and shouting, and apparently the neighborhood reaction wasn't entirely out of line, and Peter was very understanding.
He explained (yep, still in Acts 2) that they weren't drunk, but filled with enthusiasm over what God has done, and is doing – en-theos, literally enthusiastic because they had God, "theos," in them, "en-" and around and with them. And the listeners were invited to join in with the celebration.
So it's also called the "birthday of the church." Some congregations will even have cake, or a lunch followed by cake (that's how my church is celebrating, because that's how we roll).
It's a little surprising, actually. Folks could sell church birthday cards, or special cake toppers, or just party hats that look like little flames on top (sound odd? Read Acts 2), and the list goes on.
But what neither we within the church nor the world around us has managed to do is to make this spiritual celebration too tangible. There's just not much stuff you can attach, and market, and sell, when the focal point is spiritual intensity. The only real connection you could make to the event to be commemorated is through a gathering, around 9 or 10 o'clock in the morning as they did that day in Jerusalem, where people get together from a wide variety of backgrounds, earnestly seek the presence of God in their lives, and then sing or even shout for joy when that presence is felt.
And that marketing angle is already pretty well covered. Drop by any congregation you like and see how they sell it: they may even have cake, with candles.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about your celebrations of God's presence at firstname.lastname@example.org, or @Knapsack on Twitter.