The Rev. Kate Salisbury, The Rev. Matthew M. Browne and...

The Rev. Kate Salisbury, The Rev. Matthew M. Browne and The Rev. Joann Heaney-Hunter Credit: Kate Salisbury; Nick Castelli Photography; St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church

Pentecost, which is celebrated on May 19, is a major religious observance for Roman Catholics, Lutherans, the Anglican Communion and other Christian faiths. This week’s clergy discuss the origin, meaning and power of this holy celebration.

The Rev. Matthew M. Browne

Director, Office of Evangelization and Catechesis Bishop’s Delegate, Department of Education, Diocese of Rockville Centre  

The Roman Catholic Church celebrates Pentecost (Acts 2:1-13) as a potent reminder that God continues to be close to his people. Albeit without the violent wind and tongues of fire, the Holy Spirit is just as alive and present in the church today as it was on that first Pentecost, when the gift of the promised Spirit descended on the apostles. Even though we may not notice them, miracles continue to occur daily — miraculous healings, eucharistic miracles, beautiful conversions of the heart, selfless acts of charity, sinners returning to the Father, heroic acts of sacrifice — all because of the Holy Spirit. How easy it can be to ignore the presence of the Holy Spirit in a world filled with immense strife, division and darkness! How simple it would be to ask, “Where are you, Lord?” The powerful reality that has proven itself repeatedly since the birthday of the church is that it’s in the most ominous moments of history that the Holy Spirit has been and continues to be most present. The stories of the apostles and of the great saints and martyrs rising up in places, and at times, of great hostility is remarkably divine and a compelling sign of hope that the Holy Spirit is with us no matter what.  

The Rev. Joann Heaney-Hunter

Pastor, St. Stephen Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hicksville, and associate professor, St. John’s University in Queens  

On Pentecost, Christians commemorate the gift of the Holy Spirit. Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 2, describes fearful disciples who were transformed when God’s Spirit descended on them like tongues of fire. The Holy Spirit inspired the disciples to proclaim Christ’s death and resurrection to the people of Jerusalem. What was miraculous was that everyone, regardless of their place of origin, could understand them. Christians believe Pentecost marks the beginning of the Church’s missionary work. The Holy Spirit led Jesus’ disciples to preach the Gospel to the world. Christians still celebrate Pentecost because the Holy Spirit remains with us, inspiring us to proclaim our faith to others. Martin Luther, the 16th-century reformer, believed the Holy Spirit was alive in him and the church. In a 1523 Pentecost sermon, Luther argued that the Holy Spirit helped people deepen their Christian faith. He said, “God adds the Holy Spirit, who impresses this preaching upon the heart, so that it abides there and lives.” For Luther, the Holy Spirit’s presence continually inspires and encourages the faith of believers. Pentecost highlights the Holy Spirit, who remains with us and helps us understand God’s many blessings.

The Rev. Kate Salisbury

Canon for Christian Education, Cathedral of the Incarnation in Garden City  

Pentecost, which Christians celebrate 50 days after Easter, is related to Shavuot, a Jewish festival celebrated 50 days after Passover. People in the ancient, Greek-speaking world referred to Shavuot as Pentecost (Greek for 50th day.) It commemorates God revealing the Ten Commandments to Moses atop Mount Sinai, and shifts the calendar’s focus beyond the Exodus and wilderness journey to the emerging character of God’s people. Why do Christians celebrate it today? When Jesus’ disciples gathered for Pentecost for the first time after his crucifixion, they also had a revelation. As they began to articulate their experience of God in Christ, they found themselves speaking in various languages they never knew (i.e. “speaking in tongues”). They interpreted this miracle as a call to spread their new faith among people from all parts of the Roman world. Christians observe Pentecost as a celebration of the Holy Spirit: God’s ability to move through each of us, and all creation, as powerfully as the wind.

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