Pentecost’s divine disorder


Don’t contain the daring Spirit of God. Embrace it.

By Samuel Son | Presbyterians Today

El Greco, “Pentecost,” Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, ca. 1600.

After the 50 days of Easter, followed by the Ascension of our Lord, comes the celebration of Pentecost. It’s a day on the liturgical calendar that is often played out in churches by a sea of red in the pews, as churchgoers are invited to wear something red, symbolizing the “divided tongues, as of fire” in Acts 2:3 that appeared over the heads of Jesus’ followers who waited prayerfully for the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Pentecost is a day that marks the surprising and explosive start of the church. The day is not for us to just sing “Happy Birthday” to the church, marveling at how long the body of Christ has been around.

Rather, Pentecost is a day to remember our identity as God’s beloved and return to the core values of discipleship. And so, the issue we should be wrestling with is not how to “celebrate” Pentecost Sunday. Rather, the question should be: How can every Sunday be a Pentecost Sunday, filled with the surprising — and at times chaotic — Spirit?

The first Pentecost worship started spontaneously on a side street in Jerusalem. It wasn’t sanctioned by religious officials. It was a tailgate party that became bigger than the main event itself. Devout Jews had traveled to observe Pentecost — Shavuot in Hebrew — which was the festival of the gathering of sheaves.

Sunlight had just spilled through the streets, and a large crowd encircled the uncredentialed Galilean preachers — Jesus’ followers — who were now preaching the Good News boldly. This open-air event was not some conference agenda. It wasn’t in their strategy for church growth. They didn’t have time to compose one.

During the days before Pentecost, they were too busy praying, as Jesus asked them to do. But that morning of the Pentecost festival, after being filled with the Spirit, they went out into the streets preaching Jesus. They preached in different languages so that all could understand. People from Crete and Rome, who came to Jerusalem expecting to use their rusty Hebrew, were surprised to hear the word of God in their own languages. Just a few weeks earlier, Jesus’ followers had locked themselves in an upper room, afraid they might share the same fate as Jesus if they even spoke his name.

Pentecost reminds us that with God’s Spirit, worship isn’t necessarily about following the traditional worship order, and meetings aren’t all about following “Robert’s Rules of Order.” But Presbyterians love church life to be done “decently and in order,” which might be why we don’t know how to pull off a truly Spirit-filled Pentecost celebration. Yet “decently and in order” is one of those phrases that does more harm than we imagine, because lots of decisions made on those three words can keep the chaotic, daring Spirit contained. “Decently” and “order” joined together implies that disorder is always indecent.

Pentecost means that churches should learn to see disorder as a new way of doing things. Could embracing the use of multiple languages in worship or envisioning a new way of running a session meeting be the mighty rush of the Spirit wind ruffling things up? Pentecost also invites us to consider how many truths have been shushed for the sake of decency.

Pentecost is not merely asking us how to make that one Sunday of worship a little bit out of order. It challenges us to always be open to the reordering of the Spirit in every part of our lives.

Samuel Son is the manager of diversity and reconciliation at the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

Ideas for living Pentecost

  • Just as Jesus’ followers were instructed to wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit in prayer, gather a prayer circle the week leading up to Pentecost Sunday, which is May 31 this year. Meet together physically if you can or virtually using Zoom — and pray daily.
  • Start a new daily routine that brings Pentecost into your everyday living. Sit quietly for a few minutes, open your hands to be receptive, and repeat, “Come, Holy Spirit, come.”
  • Use different languages in worship on Pentecost Sunday — and subsequent Sundays. What are the languages spoken in your community?
  • Think about language beyond the spoken word and use sign language regularly to create a more inclusive worship experience for the entire congregation.

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