Pentecost is considered to be the birthday of the Christian church. After his death and resurrection, Jesus’ disciples, along with pilgrims from all over the known world, had gathered in Jerusalem for a Jewish holiday that takes place 50 days (or ‘pente cost’ in Greek) after Passover. What began as a festival of thanksgiving for the harvest was about to be transformed into an even more memorable event.
The story goes that, all of a sudden, there was a sound like that of a violent wind. But rather than causing damage, what the followers of Jesus noticed was that, much to their amazement, they were each suddenly able to speak a language they had never spoken before. Other visitors to the city came running at the sound of the wind and were also amazed to find that each of them heard their own language being spoken. Jesus had promised his followers that the Spirit of God would come to give them the ability to share the story of Jesus, but they could not have guessed that it would happen in this way.
Accompanying the sound of the rushing wind was what appeared to be a small flame that landed on each disciple as a sign of God’s Spirit with them, so both fire and wind are symbols of this event.
Now back to the “birthday” part of Pentecost, that is, other than the apparent but wrong connection with birthday candles! God’s Spirit came to Jesus’ followers that day, giving them, for the first time, the ability and motivation to take the story of Jesus beyond their own place and culture, into the whole wide world.
That we know this story and can tell it in 21st century English continues the gift of Pentecost.