Understanding “Pentecost” and “Ordinary Time”

Some people hear the word ‘Pentecost’  and think it is something that only ‘Pentecostal or charismatic’ churches celebrated.  But Pentecost is a celebration of the church year.  It follows fifty days (penta . . .) after Easter but it is a significant celebration in itself.

Let me first tell you some things we were probably all taught that we need to “re-learn.”

  • “Pentecost marks the beginning of the work of the Holy Spirit in the world.”  Think about this instead – The Holy Spirit has always been at work in the world – from creation, through the life of the children of Israel, even in the life of Christ.  Pentecost instead of being the “coming of the Holy Spirit” – is the birth of the church, and a specific experience of a visible manifestation of the Holy Spirit, at the birth of the church.
  • “Pentecost is primarily about the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of individuals.”  Rather, Pentecost is about the church, the formation of the church by the Spirit and the mission task given to that corporate body of believers.
  • “The Day of Pentecost marks the beginning of a new liturgical season.”  Rather, the Day of Pentecost closes the ‘Great Fifty Days’ of the season of Easter.  Beyond the Season of Easter, we have what we call “Ordinary Time”.  Yes, we call the upcoming Sundays the “Second Sunday AFTER Pentecost,” “the Fifteenth Sunday AFTER Pentecost”, (etc.,); but the fact of the matter, Pentecost is the culmination of the Season of Easter – a summarizing occasion, an occasion for recognition that the Holy Spirit is the agent whereby the Risen Christ is made present in the church.  Worship moves from celebrating the saving events of God – his incarnation, manifestation to the world, life, death, resurrection and ascension and the birth of the “body of Christ” in the world.  Worship now moves into ordinary time, where we call to mind the teaching of the church and the practices of the Christian life as recorded in the New Testament writings.

Pentecost (and subsequent “ordinary time”) in Christian worship is primarily about the church as a corporate community.  To use the terms of formal theology, Pentecost turns us to an “ecclesiological focus”.  Pentecost is not about the work of the Spirit in the lives of the individual Christian, but rather about the formation of the corporate body, the Church, and the Holy Spirit showing through the Church, the Resurrection Presence of the Risen Lord, to the end that we become the community of faith, bolding witnessing of the good news in the world.

You see, in our world, we have allowed our “American spirit of independence and individualism” to cause us to misunderstand the nature of the Church.   We tend to view the church as a ‘voluntary’ organization of individuals that exists primarily for reasons that relate to efficiency.   “I” gather with a group of individuals purely voluntarily.  I” can participate when “I” want (or not).  “I” participate to the degree “I” want depending on what “I” am getting out of it.  “I” can worship just as ‘good’ on the golf course, or the lake, or ‘down the shore’.  “I” don’t need the church for worship.

Pentecost gives a resounding “NO” to this idea.  The Church, not the individual, is the irreducible unit of the Christian faith.  The Church is a community called by the Spirit of the Risen One. It is not something we choose to do (or equally choose not to do), but something to which we are “summoned.”  The Greek word for church-ekklesia means “those who have been called forth or summoned” such as one who has been summoned to a court of law.  And we are called as a body of interdependent parts, not as separate individuals.  Participation therefore is not something we do on the basis of personal choice or need; participation in the Body of Christ is inherent in being a Christian.  If we choose not to participate in the Body of Christ, then can we really call ourselves “Christian”?  Pentecost suggests we cannot.

Further, the church is a sign of the future.  No matter how imperfectly, the church seeks to enact in the present world the grace that characterizes the eternal reign of God.  So we as Christians participate in the church, not so much for what we can get, as for what we can give, for what we can offer as an alternative (counter-cultural) to the dominant ways of the our world.

So why do we celebrate Pentecost?  We celebrate Pentecost because it brings understanding to the followers of Jesus, empowers us in ministry, establishes the church, and points to the end of history when the kingdom of Christ will be established over all the earth. It is significant that we celebrate with the color red.  It is truth in color.  Color in motion.  Color proclaiming.  Color acting.  Color reminding.  Color being performative – speaking , delivering, communicating that we are the Church, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and called to be the Body of Christ in our world.