Reclaim the Day! A Pentecost Community

The earliest Christians understood full well that the Church was a community of the Holy Spirit.  It was born not by human will or effort but by an act of the triune God on Pentecost Sunday (which this year is to be celebrated on May 19th).

The first of the great festival days of the Christian movement was Easter.  The second, ranking ahead of Christmas, was this day – Pentecost Day.  Why?  Because at Pentecost the first Christians experienced God moving in their midst in a way so powerful that it shaped and gave birth to a distinctive community, the community of the Holy Spirit.

The Bible records in Acts 2 that the power of the Holy Spirit that descended at Pentecost was not given to individuals but to the community.  God was present in power and blessing “where two or more gathered in the name of Jesus.”  The church, that disparate collection that is also called the Body of Christ, is the community of the Holy Spirit.

“The nineteenth-century historian Alfred Loisy is often quoted as saying, ‘Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom of God, and what came was the church.’  But Loisy did not mean this in the cynical way in which it is often repeated, as if the church were a later misunderstanding of the original intentions of Jesus” (William Willimon, What’s Right with the Church). Rather, it is the affirmation that where we are together in His name, the Spirit is present in the ongoing life and witness of the people of God.  As the great German theologian Karl Barth put it:  “In this assembly, the work of the Holy Spirit takes place” (Karl Barth, Dogmatics in Outline).

I write to invite us to reclaim the importance of Pentecost Sunday.  It is a great festival day to lift and celebrate on the ongoing – continuing – work of the Holy Spirit in our midst!  The Church is a community of the Holy Spirit.  It is, in God’s divine plan, a primary (though not exclusive) place and locus of the Holy Spirit in our midst.  The experience of Pentecost was so dramatic that it changed their lives and gave birth to the Church.  Those present experienced the dynamic dimension of God presence in their lives.

In my recent readings I ran into the following quote from Professor Jason Vickers in his deep book Minding the Good Ground.  “Pentecost reminds us that the church came into existence originally and has existed continuously ever since because the Spirit is present in and to the church. As Irenaeus put it, ‘Where the Church is, there is also the Spirit of God and where the Spirit of God is, there are also the Church and all grace.’”

The temptation is to stop right here.  We might politely muse to ourselves “isn’t it nice that God gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  But wait a minute.  The Holy Spirit wasn’t a kind gentle breeze.  It’s no zephyr.  It was a “violent blast” –a “tempest!”

What happened on that first Pentecost Day?  The church got down on its knees and prayed and the Spirit descended.  The Community of the Holy Spirit began in a meeting of prayer and praise!  The preaching came as a response.  And what a response it was.

Peter’s sermon (which makes but the long middle section of the 2nd chapter of Acts, some 23 verses) was the watershed which defined their experience of the Holy Spirit.  Peter preached Jesus.  It sounds so simple and is yet so powerful.  He proclaimed the Spirit as the living Lord Jesus present among us.  That’s right, among us now, amid all our cares and concerns, seeking to deal with our fears and worries, embracing our joys and hopes, the living Lord Jesus through the Holy Spirit.

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