A MESSAGE FROM REV. J.C. AUSTIN: Bound together by the power of the Holy Spirit

It has become a cliché of this quarantine period of the pandemic that it is difficult to keep track of time: telling the day of the week is hard; things that feel like they happened just last week were more than a month ago; and things that happened just three months ago feel like years in the past.

But this Sunday is a helpful marker for us, because it 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. This year, of course, we will not be gathering together physically for worship.

But one of the themes for us throughout this quarantine period has been 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, in many ways, seems all the more important for us this year.

Therefore, I want to encourage you to wear something red for worship this Sunday and take a selfie in church! Yes, you read that right: take a selfie as you gather for worship wearing your red for Pentecost, whether that’s a red shirt or scarf or pajamas or whatever you’re wearing for worship. And then either post it in the comments section of the Facebook livestream when you join the service or, if that feels daunting, email it to info@fpc-bethlehem.org, so 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.

Grace and peace,