Pentecost (also known as Whitsun) is the celebration of the outpouring
of the Holy Spirit on the disciples and others gathered in Jerusalem ten days
after the Ascension of Jesus. Its name
comes from the fact that it took place on the Jewish festival of Pentecost (spring
harvest, also known as Shavuot), the fiftieth day from the Passover
festival. After the emotional turmoil of
the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension this experience of the Holy Spirit
gave new hope and energy to the disciples to proclaim the gospel message, which
began to be spread across the world as the gathered pilgrims returned home
after the festival. It also gave the
followers of Jesus a new passion for worship, meeting together, sharing their
belongings and selling what they did not need for the benefit of others. Christians celebrate this event as the
birthday of the church.
The biblical account is most fully described in Acts 2, but John’s gospel alludes to a new experience of the Holy Spirit in John 20:22. Christians understand the Holy Spirit to be one person of the Holy Trinity, a revelation of God, who has been present since before creation (see Genesis 1:2, though ‘spirit’ is translated ‘wind’ in some Bibles). We believe the Holy Spirit to be the active, dynamic presence of God with us, who interprets God’s word, changes lives, guides, inspires, empowers and equips us to fulfil our calling from God. Some of the Spirit’s gifts are listed in 1 Corinthians 12. Some of the changes the Holy Spirit makes in our lives are described as ‘fruit of the Spirit’ in Galatians 5:22-23.
The day after Pentecost used to be known as Whit Monday and was a bank holiday, but could be any time between mid May and mid June, depending on the date of Easter that year, so is now replaced by the Spring Bank Holiday which is always on the last Monday in May. The old Whit Monday parades have largely gone from our churches in Britain but most churches recognize Pentecost as a major festival and many outreach events are held to celebrate it.
Pentecost completes the revelation of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the church calendar and so the Sunday after Pentecost is celebrated as Trinity Sunday.