Tuesday, May 6, 2008


This afternoon I was painting. It’s rather mindless work and one’s mind tends to be occupied with something. I began thinking about a trip we are taking this coming weekend and how this same weekend is both Pentecost and Mother’s Day. Then my mind fired a couple of boosters.

I remembered the local congregation of my childhood. It was a “free church,” which as I’ve said before, means essentially that the pastor is “free” to do whatever he chooses on a given Sunday. I was in college before I was aware of the Church Year. We “observed” Christmas the Sunday (or maybe two) before Christmas Day. We never had services on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day (unless those days fell on Sunday). Easter was Easter Sunday only. Holy Week was mostly unheard of. But Mother’s Day was a big deal. It took over the service. Everyone wore either a red or white rose (depending on whether one’s mother was alive or deceased). There were recognitions (during the service) for certain mothers in attendance: the oldest, the youngest, the one with the most children, the one with the most children present in the service.... Some “clever” person had edited Faith of Our Fathers into “Faith of our Mothers.” Sometimes an old song about “Mother’s Bible” would get pulled out. Mother’s Day was observed with fervency.

I thought about the ways Pentecost will (and will not) be celebrated this coming Sunday in various congregations. I’m not sure the church of my childhood will even know it is Pentecost. I am quite sure that many congregations in the denomination I served for the past 25+ years will have no mention of it in the course of their Sunday services. I also know that Catholic and Lutheran and Anglican and many Methodist congregations will be in full red vestments. I know that Luther and Calvin and Wesley (and Clement and Cyril and Gregory and Augustine all the more) would be aghast at the thought of Christian worship not focusing on the occasion on Pentecost Sunday.

My present congregation is having a special focus of prayer for nine days (some will recognize this as a novena) prior to Pentecost in preparation for observing the coming of the Holy Spirit. We are reminded that the disciples gathered in the upper room following the Ascension to pray and wait for the promised Coming of the Spirit.

I now cannot imagine belonging to a congregation that does not celebrate Pentecost (and the rest of the Church Year). I grieve for any such “church” that is so far removed from what the Church has practiced and proclaimed for almost 2000 years. And as wonderful as mothers are and as legitimate as it is to remember them on a special day, that is not what First Day worship is about in the Church.

And yet, outwardly observing Pentecost does not mean that the people of a given congregation are truly honoring the Holy Spirit in their worship. Celebrating with red vestments and adding “high church” elements is not the primary issue of observing Pentecost. The New Testament warns of quenching and grieving the Holy Spirit. Entering into an hour of elaborate liturgy does not absolve disobedience to God or spiritual distraction rooted in cold hearts. The Holy Spirit is the Heavenly Dove and he is easily wounded and driven away. The manifestation of the Spirit’s Presence comes only where he is desired and sought by repentant and obedient hearts.

One result of this is that some congregations which focus more on mothers than Pentecost this coming Sunday may actually know more of the Spirit’s felt Presence than some congregations that celebrate Pentecost mostly with outward form. The Lord’s Presence is manifest where he is desired and honored with the heart.

Of course, it is best when a congregation observes the outward form with the fervency of hearts set on fire with love for Jesus. The Church is meant to model truth both outwardly and inwardly.

Jesus once said of the Spirit, “He will glorify me.” As we go into Pentecost Sunday, let’s turn to Jesus with whole hearts. He wants to give his people the gift of his Spirit, filling us again and again. Come, Holy Spirit.

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