A MESSAGE FROM THE REV. J.C. AUSTIN: The gift of the Holy Spirit

This Sunday is Pentecost, one of the major holidays of the Christian year. The word Pentecost literally means “fiftieth” in Greek, and it is observed fifty days after Easter (which, to me, definitely feels like longer than fifty days ago!).

That’s because Pentecost isn’t originally a Christian holiday; in Judaism, it is known more often by its Hebrew name, Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks, because it comes seven weeks and one day after the Feast of Unleavened Bread at Passover. It began in Judaism as a harvest festival, but evolved into a celebration of the gift of the Torah, the covenantal Law, to Moses on Mount Sinai.

For Christians, Pentecost celebrates not the gift of the Law but the gift of the Holy Spirit to the disciples of Jesus, who had spent the previous fifty days mostly hiding in Jerusalem from the enemies who wanted to finish destroying Jesus’ legacy. So this Sunday, we will tell the dramatic story again of how the Spirit suddenly descended on the small band of disciples and changed everything for both the church and the world.

Typically, we encourage people to wear something red to worship on Pentecost to symbolize the flames of the Spirit, which Scripture describes as alighting on the disciples like tongues of fire. Throughout the pandemic, when we have been in digital worship, we have affirmed that while we may not be able to gather physically, we are being gathered and bound together by the power of the Holy Spirit in our worship and fellowship and service.

So Pentecost, when we celebrate the gift of the Spirit, is particularly important for us to celebrate. Therefore, I want to encourage you to do two things for worship this Sunday. First, find a way to bring something red into your home worship space, whether that is red clothing (even red pajamas!), a red tablecloth, red flowers, whatever will help you embody something of the Spirit’s presence and power.

And second, if you’re willing, take a photo! You can either post it in the Facebook comments at the beginning of the worship livestream, or you can email it in advance to info@fpc-bethlehem.org, and we will post it for you. That way, we can create a Pentecost photo album of First Presbyterian gathered in the Spirit for Pentecost!

I look forward to being in worship with you on Sunday as we gather together to celebrate the gift of the Spirit to the church in Jerusalem, and consider how the Spirit is moving us as the Christian Church today, and as the First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem in particular. See you online and in Spirit on Sunday!

Grace and Peace,