“I am going away.”
The disciples had just an emotional night–Jesus had washed their feet, told them one of their own would betray Him and Peter would deny Him. Now Jesus told them He was leaving them, and He said it was good He was going. I’m sure they were thinking that it was not a good thing–I know I would have. They and their people had waited to see the Messiah for thousands of years and now he was leaving again! For once, they could actually hear what God was saying–by listening to Jesus who was right there in front of them instead of trying to figure out what the prophets were saying. How could it be better for Him to leave? I wonder if they dared even ask that question in their hearts. And in the days that followed–in the garden at His arrest, the trial, crucifixion and burial of their beloved Messiah, they must have been very confused indeed. But then, the resurrection and forty days of Jesus coming in and out of their lives happened. What must that have been like? Unspeakable joy. Jesus speaking plainly to them, preparing them again for His return to heaven. After the ascent, gathering in Jerusalem to wait, as He commanded. They obviously weren’t the only ones in Jerusalem, as the Jewish holiday of Pentecost , or Shavuot drew near. The Spirit descended like tongues of fire on these 12 ragamuffins, and the world has never been the same.
God commanded the Pentecost holiday to be 50 days after Passover to celebrate the harvest. Firstfruits was celebrated on the third day of Passover, the day Jesus rose from the dead. Pentecost, celebrates the latter first fruits, and celebrates the harvest of wheat, but also the giving of the law on Mt. Sinai. How amazing, and just like the Father, to have the Holy Spirit descend on the disciples on a day celebrating the harvest! And to ponder the day that He gave the 10 Commandments to Israel and 3000 died for their disobedience–on the day of Pentecost in Acts, the Holy Spirit was given, and 3000 were added to the Body of Christ! God is into the details.
Traditionally the holiday is celebrated by staying up and reading the Torah, and for some reason, eating dairy products, perhaps to celebrate the sweetness of the law (that part is a bit confusing to me). Animal sacrifices were brought to the Temple and a loaf of bread made from this harvest wheat was baked and then waved. Children were encouraged to memorize scripture and the book of Ruth was traditionally read (it has a harvest setting). If you want to read your Bible and eat cheese blintzes and cheesecake or make a Shavuot loaf and wave it around while you worship, go for it.:) Here is an excellent post by a Messianic rabbi that explains Shavuot or Pentecost as well as Old Testament Scriptures that describe God’s instructions and interpreting some traditions people use to celebrate, not to mention why we should celebrate. And A Family Guide to the Biblical Holidays is very thorough in describing both traditional and modern Jewish celebrations and well as suggestions for New Testament believers as well.
For believers in Jesus, we can celebrate the giving of the Holy Spirit to guide, comfort, and live within us. Jesus told his disciples that it was better for Him to go the Father so Holy Spirit would come and be with them (and us!). So we can thank the Father for sending us Holy Spirit and celebrating the harvest here on earth–remember, we are part of that harvest now we have accepted God in the person of Father, Son and Spirit. How can we celebrate this?
There are some interesting ideas I found on some Catholic websites and blogs. Catholic believers are encouraged to wear red on Pentecost Sunday as a symbol of the tongues of fire that descended on the disciples. The children could make a collage with red, orange and yellow tissue paper to symbolize the flames. This might be a good activity to keep their hands busy while reading the account in Acts of the giving of the Holy Spirit. Another activity would be to cut flames shapes out of construction paper and write one of the fruits of the Spirit(Galatians 5:22-23) on each flame, and use it to decorate the table. You could talk about each fruit as you are making them, or around the table as you eat.
Of course it wouldn’t be a celebration without some sort of food. There were suggestions for a red velvet cake, in keeping with the flame theme, but I think yellow cake would be fine too. Some flames are yellow, right? These cakes or cupcakes were to be iced white and have 12 candles to symbolize the 12 disciples. One idea I liked was to cut strawberries in half and stand them on end to symbolize the flames coming down on the disciples, and whole strawberries symbolizing both the gifts and the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Here is a link to the forum that shows several examples of cakes and a site called Catholic Icingthat has a coloring page of the disciples and the flames and other ideas as well. The tongue sandwiches look weird to me, but you can look and make your own decisions.
Since the Jewish tradition involves reading scripture and a tradition of children memorizing scripture on Pentecost, perhaps you could choose the fruit of the Spirit verses and memorize them with your children, or choose another passage that talks about the Holy Spirit to memorize. Some suggestions: Galatians 5:22-23 (fruit of the Spirit), John 14:16-18, John 14:26, John 16:13-15,Isaiah 61:1-3, Joel 2:28, Acts 1:8, Romans 5:5, Romans 8:5-11, Romans 8:26-27, 1 John 4:13-16. Some of these are longer, so they may be more appropriate for older children, or start now, so they’ll have them memorized by Pentecost.
This year Pentecost Sunday is May 27. You have time to think and pray and decide how to celebrate this holiday that marks the harvest of both grain and souls, the giving of the both law and the Holy Spirit and birth of the church. Enjoy the celebration!