Prayer: Almighty God, on this day you opened the way of eternal life to every race and nation by the promised gift of your Holy Spirit: Spread abroad this gift throughout the world by the preaching of the Gospel, that it may reach to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen
Today the church celebrates the Day of Pentecost, 50 days after Easter Day. The word “Pentecost” comes from the Greek word Pentekoste, which means “the 50th day”.
In the Old Testament, “Pentecost” refers to the Feast of Weeks, a seven-week agricultural event that focused on the harvesting of first crops. Josephus, a first-century Jewish historian, also used the word “Pentecost” to refer to the 50th day after the first day of Passover.
In the New Testament, “Pentecost” refers to the coming of the Spirit shortly after Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension:
“When the day of Pentecost had comes, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each” (Acts 2: 1-6, NRSV).
Christians came to understand the meaning of Pentecost in terms of the gift of the Spirit, and the Pentecost event as the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise concerning the return of the Holy Spirit.
Speaking in tongues, a manifestation of receiving the Spirit, is interpreted by some to symbolize the church’s worldwide mission, and the Day of Pentecost is thought to be the origin of sending the church out into the world.
The Day of Pentecost is identified by the Book of Common Prayer as one of the feast days “especially appropriate” for baptism (Book of Common Prayer, p. 312). Because of this, Pentecost is also known as “Whitsun” or “Whitsunday” (“White Sunday”), a term used to describe the white baptismal garments worn by those who were baptized at the Vigil of Pentecost and then worn to church on the Day of Pentecost.