Three Pentecost Symbols
Pentecost will be celebrating in many of our churches this coming Sunday. I love the imagery and symbols of this important day in the church. Many Christians emphasize Christmas and Easter – and rightfully so – so why do we ignore this key moment in our church?
I compiled a guide for ideas to celebrate Pentecost. You can download this resource at no cost by clicking on the button below.
What is Pentecost?
Pentecost is sudden and powerful arrival of the Holy Spirit in and around the disciples and their friends gathered together in Jerusalem Pentecost means “the 50th day” and marks the end of the Easter season.
According to the second chapter in Acts, here is what happened:
Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?
Acts 2: 2-8
Peter then boldly told the crowd about Jesus, that he was the Messiah and more than 3000 were baptized. This is the birth day of the church. This was a major turning point for the church – it all changed that day.
The Holy Spirit arrived in a new powerful way and continues to be present in us today. The Holy Spirit advocates, teaches and empowers us to tell God’s story. She breaks down the walls between us with love that goes beyond differences in how we look and live.
Pentecost should be a community wide celebration. I like what Christina Sines writes:
“As the Holy Spirit fell on the disciples, the barriers of language and culture were broken down – not so that everyone thought and looked the same, but so that everyone understood each other in their own language and culture. In God’s new kingdom culture we don’t become an amorphous lump of homogeneity, but learn to appreciate and respect our differences.”
In her article here, she shares some really unique ideas about Pentecost including a chili cook-off (connecting the heat of the story of Pentecost to a very teachable moment), plus a wonderful worldwide list of resources for Pentecost on this year’s page.
The Symbols of Pentecost
Images open up prayer and a deeper understanding for me. Visuals give me something tangible to grasp and ponder as I stretch my learning about this God of ours who is incomprehensible and beyond human imagination. I believe these symbols are gifts from God to give us a glimpse into his Kingdom and his ways.
Understanding the full power and depth of the Holy Spirit is more than my little mind can contain. God is always More. I love the images of the Holy Spirit and Pentecost gives us wonderful ones to consider.
Acts 2 describe the initial arrival of the Holy Spirit as “a blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting” ( NIV), “Without warning there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force—no one could tell where it came from.” (The Message) and “a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm.” (NLT)
From the beginning of time whenever God creates something, the wind or the mighty breath of God brings life. (Genesis 2:7) In 1 Kings 19:12, the Holy Spirit is found in the whispering wind.
When we speak about the Holy Spirit, we speak about the breath of God, breathing in us. The Greek word for “spirit” is pneuma, which means “breath.”
We are seldom aware of our breathing.
It is so essential for life that we only think about it when something is wrong with it.
The Spirit of God is like our breath. God’s spirit is more intimate to us than we are to ourselves. We might not often be aware of it, but without it we cannot live a “spiritual life.”
It is the Holy Spirit of God who prays in us, who offers us the gifts of love, forgiveness, kindness, goodness, gentleness, peace, and joy.
It is the Holy Spirit who offers us the life that death cannot destroy.
Let us always pray: “Come, Holy Spirit, come.”
Listen to the wind. Have any of you notice more windy days the past few years? I know someone will write that observation off as just my awareness or climate change, but I think God is moving, creating something new. National Geographic news does report that across the world in the past 20 years, winds have increased an average of five percent.
The Holy Spirit is alive and present here with and within us. The breath of God is waking us up, moving us beyond our comfort zones. We can no longer be dormant and stagnant. We are called to dance with the wind.
Luke tells us about another symbol of Pentecost where he uses the phrase “saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.”
Fire has long been a symbol of God. We light candles in our sanctuaries, at retreats and in our sacred spaces at home. In my own home altar, I bow before the cross and light a small flame to enter into God’s presence.
A column of fire led the Israelites through the desert and spoke to Moses in a burning bush. Psalm 29 describes the voice of God as a fiery flame.
I read the other day a wonderful Pentecost tradition in Italy. They drop red rose petals from the ceiling of the church to represent the flames of this day.
We ask our members of our church to wear red. The liturgical color for Pentecost is red. We have felt flames adorning our baptismal font and Christ candle that day. As I write this the altar guild has not yet put those out, but when they do I will try to add a photo of them to this blog. post.
Fire transforms us into people of courage, boldness, and strength.
For this reason, I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you
2 Timothy 1: 6
The dove is another common image of the Holy Spirit. In Genesis, doves represented the end of the flood (Genesis 8: 8-12). When Jesus was baptized the Holy Spirit descended upon him in the form of a dove.
Doves reminds us of new beginnings and hope. During that crazy, chaotic first Pentecost, everyone heard the Good News in their own language – what a miracle and model for us to be mindful how we use words for peace, reconciliation and unity, not to divide or destroy.
We have a pair of doves that like to drink from my small pond in my backyard. I love hearing their deep, soft whirling hum as they talk to one another or perhaps talk with God. When I see them, I pause and talk to God too.
The dove offers us peace, gentleness, kindness – all gifts of the Spirit.
God speaks to us in so many ways. Images, like the ones we hear and experience at Pentecost, are just one avenue to bring our attention back to him, to open our minds to new ideas and to learn his ways more.
This week I am pondering:
Where is God showing up this week in my life?
How is the Holy Spirit gently shaping my faith and leading me?
What can this week’s lesson show me about God to know him better and to make him known to others?
What is your favorite image of God and the Holy Spirit and how has that symbol formed your faith?
Dolly @ Soulstops.com says
Thanks for this great write up. Our women’s group finished studying the Holy Spirit this past year so I have a greater appreciation for this 3rd person of the Trinity we don’t hear as much about….I don’t know what my favorite image is…hmm, let me think…praying fullness of joy for you, my friend 🙂
Jean Wise says
I think this third person is really neglected in most churches. Praying joy for you too – this has been delightful having a friend to share this exploration of joy with. So glad it is you!!
I love the “Then Suddenly” and not a wispy blow of is that you Lord? Or am I nuts… but the blowing of a violent wind… tongues of FIRE… unmistakable, undeniable, could only be one… the Almighty God, Creator of Heaven and Earth.
A dear missionary friend of mine from Africa once told me, don’t worry, SAVING the day is God’s specialty.
God is with us in the fire, is the lion’s den, at the table with our enemies, when you are walking through the valley of death, when a thousands are falling at your side, when your spouse says “curse God and die” …. this is when “then suddenly” shows up. Dad’s here!
Peace in the storm, is knowing He’s going to show up and not be late.
Anxiety in the storm leads to fervent and heartfelt seeking of Him. Isn’t it just like God to make it to where we just can’t miss Him.
Jean Wise says
Love that quote you shared. very encouraging too. yes Peace in the storm. I remember this in the big stuff but too often let the little things trip me jp and land in a big pile of discouragement. I just love the hope, symbolism and promise of Pentecost. Happy Pentecost to you!!
Nancy Ruegg says
I think fire, as a source of warmth and light, provides my favorite symbol for the Holy Spirit. I’m remembering John Wesley describing his conversion experience as feeling “strangely warmed.” The warmth of the Spirit also brings comfort and peace as well. The Holy Spirit as light illumines the Word of God to me and guides my way. P.S. Love that idea of rose petals dropping from the ceiling on Pentecost Sunday!
Jean Wise says
Aren’t these symbols perfect, Nancy? I never heard that before about John Wesley. Interesting enough, I was baptized when I was 9 ( long story why that time.) but can remember feeling different, yes warmed right afterwards. Never realized that before until I read what you wrote. Thank you for sharing that as it gave me new insight. very interesting. May God’s spirit fill you with light, warmth and lots of rose petals!
Nancy Ruegg says
Well! Something else we have in common, Jean–I, too, was baptized at age 9! Also had to smile at your “prayer” for lots of rose petals. My daughter gave me a rose bush for Mother’s Day! 🙂 (The petals are a soft, baby pink, though–not red.)
Jean Wise says
what a delightful gift to get. so appropriate. Age 9 must be a good age….
Martha Orlando says
Jean, there is a praise song we sing at church called “Burning in My Soul” that has both images of wind and fire as we sing (pray) for the Holy Spirit to create a revival among us. It is an absolutely powerful song and reminds me each time of how great and overwhelmingly powerful our awesome God is!
And thanks for the reminder to wear red next Sunday! Since there was no announcement at our church, I wonder if I’ll be the only one? Lol!
Jean Wise says
I don’t know that song but sounds perfect, Martha. Don’t you just love this imagery? I just told Ceil that a member of my church ask that I send out a text message through our church text messaging system Saturday night to remind everyone to wear red. I thought that was funny. Now I better not be the one who forgets. LOL
Hi Jean! Our church dresses itself in the color red for Pentecost. It’s considered the birthday of the church, because the disciples all left hiding and the conversions really started to happen!
I love that information about the word ‘spirit’. I was looking for some music to accompany writing, and I wanted something about God speaking to his children. Songs about ‘breath’ of God kept popping up. I was thinking ‘No! I want ‘word’ in there!” Little did I know that the spirit moves in our breath, speaks in our breath, is our breath. Thank you!
I do like to think of the Spirit as wind and as power. Love moves things.
Jean Wise says
Hi Ceil! Glad to hear more are wearing red too. One of the church members ask that I use our church texting messaging service on Saturday evening to remind people about that custom. I thought that was funny. glad I helped you figure out the right song too. God’s timing is good. I love the wind as an image – so powerful and certainly gaining in the world. interesting isn’t it that Nat Geo has even documented that fact. may the spirit keep moving in your life!