I saw a quip on the internet the other day remarking how nice it was that Monday was an official holiday due to the celebration of Pentecost on Sunday, thus making it a coveted three day weekend.
There is no small amount of sarcasm in that line as Monday was a holiday for Memorial Day, not Pentecost. But in this line of sarcasm is also a line of irony: Pentecost is the forgotten Church festival.
This should in no way be the case: Pentecost is a major Church festival, garnering not only readings for the Sunday, but also readings designated for the Eve of Pentecost, as well as the Monday and Tuesday following; a feet only ascribed to the festival of Easter. On top of that, the Day of Pentecost has the somewhat rarely used liturgical color of red ascribed to it, signifying all the more that this is a special day.
But Pentecost rarely draws the crowds of Christmas and Easter, even though it ranks with Christmas and Easter as major Church festivals. How many congregations that only have communion once or twice a month will alter their schedules to have communion on this festival? How many businesses will be closed in order to celebrate the festival? How many news organizations will even make note that the Church celebrates such a day?
Now some churches will try to make Pentecost special by scheduling confirmations or baptisms for that Sunday, but what if there are none? Or the calendar does not allow for such things? But is Pentecost really special because of what we add to the day in terms of celebrations? Christmas and Easter are special regardless of whether or not there is a children’s program or not on Christmas Eve, or whether or not a congregation has a breakfast on Easter Sunday.
Perhaps Pentecost is a victim of itself. The Day of Pentecost ushers in the half of the Church Year where we focus on the growth of the Church; it is thereby the longest season of the Church Year. Whereas we only get a small sampling of Christmas and a mere 7 weeks of Easter, Pentecost goes from late Spring until late Fall. So if you don’t celebrate Pentecost the first time, you will get as many as 28 more chances to do so.
But Pentecost is also long in another sense. Christ has already completed the work of salvation and ascended into heaven, and we the Church await His return. And in that sense Pentecost is the time of the Church Year that we are always in. It is hard to celebrate Pentecost, because we are in Pentecost all the time.
The Holy Spirit who comes upon the disciples in Acts 2 is the same Holy Spirit that works on the hearts and minds of believers and unbelievers alike every day of the year. Those baptisms that are celebrated year round, and those confirmations that are made, are all the continuing work of St. Matthew 28:19-20: the work of the Church in the time between the ascension of Christ and the return of Christ; i.e. the work of the Church in Pentecost.
The festival of Pentecost is certainly an important one, and it deserves to be recognized as such; but perhaps the way we should honor it is not by only attending on the Day of Pentecost, but by attending the rest of the year, participating in the continuing life of the Church.