Summary: Pentecost did not begin with a roomful of disciples in the third decade of the first century; it was made complete through them by the same God who introduced it 1,500 years before.
(Other passage: 1 Corinthians 12:4-13)
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen. (Psalm 19:14)
Henry Welles had an idea more than a century ago, an idea we still abide by today. In 1866, the United States had just emerged from a terrible and bloody civil war between our Northern and Southern states. Henry, a drugstore owner in Waterloo, New York, heard stories about our crippled and maimed surviving soldiers and suggested closing all the shops in town for one day to honor the soldiers who had been killed during that war. A retired major general, Jonathan Logan, had a similar idea at about the same time. His idea was to honor the soldiers who survived. He led the veteran through the town to the cemetery where they decorated the graves of their fallen comrades with flags. This memorial ceremony was called “Decoration Day” by the townsfolk.
Two years later, both Welles’ and Logan’s ceremonies were joined, and May 30 became the day for commemorating our soldiers from the Civil War. In 1882, the commemoration included soldiers from all previous wars, and the name was changed to Memorial Day.
Ninety-nine years later, in 1971, President Richard Nixon declared Memorial Day as a federal holiday on the last Monday in May.
Most Americans today recognize Memorial Day as the official start of the Summer Season. An overwhelming majority of American worker have the day off. Yet, according to a Gallup poll, only 28 percent of Americans know the true meaning of Memorial Day. Many get it confused with Veterans Day, a holiday that celebrates our living service members and veterans. Three out of four Americans have no clue about why they have a barbecue scheduled this weekend.
Likewise, very few Christians know the origin of Pentecost or its meaning. Many believe that the word “Pentecost” was coined as the name for the day the Holy Spirit appeared to the disciples.
Actually, Pentecost began about 15 centuries before that. It was originally called the Feast of Harvest or the Feast of Weeks. Deuteronomy 16:9–10 states, “Count off seven weeks from the time you begin to put the sickle to the standing grain. Then celebrate the Feast of Weeks to the LORD your God by giving a freewill offering in proportion to the blessings the LORD your God has given you”
And the Book of Numbers (28:26) states, “On the day of first fruits, when you present to the LORD an offering of new grain during the Feast of Weeks, hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work.” On this day the first loaves that were made from the wheat harvest were offered.
Seven weeks from Passover works out to 49 days, so the following day, the 50th day, or “Pentecost,” was the celebration day. The purpose of Pentecost was for the Israelites to show their gratitude to God for their harvest, thereby acknowledging that God was the one who provided for them by giving them the harvest.
According to the Book of Leviticus (23:17) the two loaves used on Pentecost were leavened, as opposed to the unleavened bread used for Passover. Since the Passover memorial represented the haste in which the Israelites left Egypt, the Feast of Harvest celebrates the availability of normal food again for them.
As part of the festival, each worshipper would recite verses 3 to 10 from Chapter 26 of Deuteronomy. The first verse reads, “I declare today to the Lord your God that I have come to the land the Lord swore to our forefathers to give us.”
That land was the Holy Land promised by the Father to Moses.
In choosing the celebration of Pentecost as the time to initiate the disciples of Jesus into their new lives through the Holy Spirit, the Father showcased the great harvest of everlasting life through Jesus, who had been crucified at the start of Passover 50 days before. The 120 disciples in the initial blessing of the Holy Spirit, as well as the 3,000 others they baptized that day, were the first fruits harvested for the Kingdom of God through the resurrection of Jesus and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
God’s timing is always perfect, and many events in the Bible foreshadow later ones to follow. The sacrifices of the Old Testament are representative of the single, perfect sacrifice of Jesus for us. The festival celebrating the physical harvest of God’s people foreshadows the spiritual harvest we heard in today’s reading from the Book of Acts.
Pentecost did not begin with a roomful of disciples in the third decade of the first century; it was made complete through them by the same God who introduced it 1,500 years before.