בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם שֶׁהֶחֱיָנוּ וְקִיְּמָנוּ וְהִגִּיעָנוּ לזְּמַן הַזֶּה.

Bārūch atāh Adonai Elohênū melekh ha`ôlām šeheḥeyānû veqîmānû vehigî`ānû lazman hazeh

Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, king of the universe, who hast given us life and sustained us and brought us to this season

Pentecost

"And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.  And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.  And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them."  (Act 2:1-3)


Stained glass window depicting the Trinity and Pentecost, Yorkminster Cathedral, York, England
Episodes for Personal Study
  • Acts 2:1-41
  • 1 Corinthians 12:1-14:25
  • D&C 46:8-26

Suggested Music: Veni Creator Spiritus (ninth century traditional Pentecost hymn); Hildegard von Bingam, "O Holy Spirit Root of Life"; Bach, Erschallet, ihr Lieder, erklinget, ihr Saiten (Resound, ye songs, ring out, ye strings!)

Ideas for Families
  • Read Acts 2:1-8 and discuss how we are promised the gift of the Holy Ghost at confirmation but how we often experience its power at different times in our lives 
  • Read D&C 46:8-26 and discuss the list of spiritual gifts.  What are the most important gifts?  How is the testimony of Jesus the most important gift?  Then read a Corinthians 13 and discuss how of all the gifts described by Paul, the most important are hope, faith, and love. 
  • Sing "Thy Spirit, Lord, Has Stirred Our Souls" (hymn no. 157) 

Just before his ascension, Jesus directed his disciples to tarry at Jerusalem until they "be endued with power from on high" (Luke 24:49; cf. Acts 1:8).  This promise was realized at the Jewish festival of Shavuot, fifty days after Passover, when a special endowment of the Holy Spirit came upon them, visible manifest as "tongues of fire" resting upon each f the Twelve (Matthias having just been selected to take Judas Iscariot's place).

Shavuot came to be associated with with the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai.  On this occasion thunder, lightning, and flames were seen upon the mount, and the first century Jewish philosopher Philo describes how fire came down from heaven, articulating the Law in the languages of those listening (Philo, de Decalogo).

El Greco, The Pentecost
For this reason, the empowerment of the apostolic church with the power of the spirit at the first Shavuot after Jesus' resurrection and ascension was particularly symbolic.  Just as the Law had gone out from Sinai, the new Law of Christ would now go forth from Jerusalem, borne by the apostles filled with the spirit of God.  In Christian art, the descent of the spirit upon the Twelve (and often upon Mary as well, who is last mentioned in the New Testament in Acts 1:14, where she is gathered with the Eleven and the Lord's brethren in an upper room praying) is often depicted by having rays of flame reach down to them from a dove, the symbol of the Holy Ghost.  Alternately, they are often depicted with candles or single flames above of each of their heads. 

In the Christian tradition, this event has come to be known as Pentecost, from pentēkostē which means "the fiftieth [day]" and is the Greek translation of Shavuot.  After the manifestation of the spirit itself as flames of fire, the next sign of that first Pentecost was the spiritual gift of xenoglossia, when the Twelve began to speak in foreign tongues, unknown to them but recognized and understood by the many Jewish pilgrims who had come from all over the Mediterranean and Near East for the festival.   But perhaps even more miraculous was the mighty change in Peter, who had been hesitant and fearful during the Lord's Passion but became, under the power of the Holy Spirit, mighty and bold in preaching, declaring the good news of Jesus and bringing 3,000 souls to baptism at one time.

St. John's Chapel, Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, last year at Pentecost in Jerusalem
Many traditional Christian churches celebrate Pentecost as an important feast.  In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, it is the second most important commemoration after Easter itself.  In Western churches that are highly liturgical, special services are held, the usual color of which is red, recalling the fire that appeared on the first Pentecost.  The altar is often decked in red, clerical vestments are red, and many members may wear read as well.  It is a common day to celebrate baptisms and especially confirmations.

Latter-day Saints do not formally recognized Pentecost, though I usually try to read Acts 2 and read other passages about spiritual gifts, such as 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 and D&C 46:8-26.  Indeed, this last passage of Restoration scripture reminds me of the great inheritance of spiritual gifts that should be ours: "Seek ye earnestly the best gifts, always remembering for what they are given. For verily I say unto you, they are given for the benefit of those who love me and keep my commandments" (S&C 46:9-10)  Among the list of spiritual gifts that follows, perhaps the most important are "To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world. To others is given to believe in their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful" (D&C 46:13-14).

An interesting historical parallel from LDS history is found in the experiences reported at the dedication of the Kirtland Temple March 27, 1836.  Among these is the following included in the reminiscences later gathered by B.H. Roberts:
Brother George A. Smith arose and began to prophesy, when a noise was heard like the sound of a rushing mighty wind, which filled the Temple, and all the congregation simultaneously arose, being moved upon by an invisible power; many began to speak in tongues and prophesy; others saw glorious visions; and I beheld the Temple was filled with angels, which fact I declared to the congregation. The people of the neighborhood came running together (hearing an unusual sound within, and seeing a bright light like a pillar of fire resting upon the Temple), and were astonished at what was taking place. (Roberts, Brigham Henry, ed. History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1912. 2:428).

Veni Creator Spiritus, traditional ninth century Pentecost hymn (originally in Latin, here rendered poetically in English) 



Come, Holy Ghost, Creator blest,
and in our hearts take up Thy rest;
come with Thy grace and heav'nly aid,
To fill the hearts which Thou hast made.
O Comforter, to Thee we cry,
Thou heav'nly gift of God most high,
Thou Fount of life, and Fire of love,
and sweet anointing from above.
O Finger of the hand divine,
the sevenfold gifts of grace are thine;
true promise of the Father thou,
who dost the tongue with power endow.
Thy light to every sense impart,
and shed thy love in every heart;
thine own unfailing might supply
to strengthen our infirmity.
Drive far away our ghostly foe,
and thine abiding peace bestow;
if thou be our preventing Guide,
no evil can our steps betide.
Praise we the Father and the Son
and Holy Spirit with them One;
and may the Son on us bestow
the gifts that from the Spirit flow.

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