Tomorrow an important festival will be celebrated in the western Church. It is Pentecost (otherwise known as Whit Sunday). Nowadays it is a neglected festival. When I was a child the half term holiday after Easter always coincided with Whit week. At primary school we had a whole week off. This enabled my mother to take my sister and me to visit her parents in Lancashire. (Dad might join us for part of the week, but his holidays from work were not generous.)
In the valley where my grandparents lived Whitsun was celebrated in a big way. All the people dressed up in their best clothes. The little girls were given baskets of flowers to carry. A Whit banner on two poles was carried by two strong men. The six or eight (I can’t remember which) ribbons attached to the banner were held by girls and the procession set off from the church on a hill and continued along the main road, which had been closed to traffic.
I remember taking part twice. This was the Church Mum had belonged to and where she was remembered with affection. The first time one of the little girls (in tears) had refused to carry her basket of flowers and I was given it to carry instead. The second time I was invited to hold one of the ribbons. At the time I felt quite embarrassed about it (as a visitor), but I realise now it was an honour and that it was somewhere Mum belonged.
So what were they celebrating?
At Easter the resurrection had been celebrated. On Ascension Day Jesus’ return to heaven was commemorated. Now the Church was giving thanks that the promise had been fulfilled. Luke 24:44-49 In verse 49 Jesus said, “I am going to send you what my Father has promised: but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
The story of the fulfilment of this prophecy is to be found in the Acts of the Apostles (also written by Luke). Acts 2: 1-41 tells the story of what happened at the Jewish festival of Pentecost, ten days after Jesus had ascended into heaven.
The third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit had been given to the believers. (We believe in one God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.) The change in them was immediately obvious. The former fisherman, Simon Peter, made a speech in the street and three thousand people believed.
St Peter also wrote about God’s strength and gifts. 1 Peter 4: 7-11
The gift of the Holy Spirit was not just for the early Church. In the Church of England, to which I belong, it is traditional for babies to be baptised. When they are old enough to repent and believe for themselves, they are confirmed. The Bishop lays his hands on the head of each confirmation candidate and prays for them to receive the Holy Spirit. Lives are still being changed and people empowered to live for God.