Saturday, June 25, 2011
Pentecost: Celebrating the New Creation
Entering the Temple on the morning of the 50th day after our Lord's Resurrection, decorations of green fill the Holy House. Holy Table, Priest, Servers, Tetrapod, and so on wear robes of green, and wherever they can be put, plants, and leaves of green are spread about throughout the place. It is a scene familiar to many in Eastern Christian Tradition, though not all have this tradition. Why all the Greenery? Because we celebrate the coming of the Lord and Giver of Life who proceeds from the Father: Namely, the Holy Spirit! He is celebrated with the decoration of the Church in Green because Green is the color of the Earth's renewal each spring!
As we see all of this, we pause and reflect on what the results of the Holy Spirit's coming upon the Church has been, remembering also how we have fallen short, and asking to be saved by our Lord who loves mankind. Repentance is a very big part of the life of an Eastern Christian, for we are very aware of the Awesome Holiness of the God who has loved us so much that He has given His only begotten Son for us, so that we could be saved from ourselves. We reflect upon the life which the Holy Spirit brings to each of us if we allow Him to prepare His way in us.
By contrast, Roman Catholics, and many protestants will use the color Red. The irony here is that Roman Catholics also use red in celebration of the memory of the martyrs, to symbolize the blood they have spilled in honor of Jesus Christ. I'll come back to the image of blood momentarily. When the color red is used in celebrating Pentecost, it seems that it may be pointing to the notion of Fire. The Holy Spirit is, after all, said to set one's life on fire for God. Furthermore, we also see the image of Fire in the letter to the Hebrews (12:29) "Our God is a consuming Fire." Fire is spoken of as cleansing (1 Cor 3:11-15) or like a refiner's fire (Malachi 3:2-3), and the Holy Spirit certainly cleanses and refines any in whom He dwells. Furthermore, Acts chapter 2 says that tongues as of fire descended upon the disciples who were gathered in the upper room when the Holy Spirit came upon them. So Fire is not alien to the Biblical imagery for the Holy Spirit.
The image of blood, however, is also very telling. The Roman Catholic tradition in my experience doesn't typically draw this connection, but the connection is present to be made, nonetheless. The ancients believed that the life was in the blood. This imagery certainly exists within the Jewish covenant. The sacrificial rituals of the Temple were ratified in the blood of Sheep and Oxen. A Jewish male began his life as a Jew by having his blood drawn as well in the ritual of circumcision. Blood was therefore sacred.
When Jesus poured out His blood on the cross, He poured out his very life for the life of the world. We could certainly see a validity to the view that the life is in the blood, for if you remove the blood from a living creature, it dies. Science has revealed long ago that blood carries oxygen to the body, as well as food, and this comes to the blood of man through the breath of life given by God. The ancients were right; The life is in the blood which carries the sacred breath of life through the body of the creature. Hence, Red also may be a symbol of life for the feast of the coming of the Holy Spirit.
The whole point of using color as a symbol for the feast of Pentecost is to give our minds an image to latch on to which says: The Holy Spirit has come into my being to make me nothing less than a New Creation in Christ Jesus. This Re-creation brings to us a sharing in the very life of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Part of this re-creation is to first be convicted that we are sinners, and utterly unworthy of God's gracious, loving generosity to us. All we deserve is to receive that which we have chosen, which is to be left to our own devices, and to suffer eternally in the Hell of our own choosing. God, on the other hand, has another plan for us: Salvation. We can become new by the power of the Holy Spirit. We can enter into God's life. We can receive the power to become children of God (John 1:12), which is, in fact, what we celebrate whenever we honor a saint; the completed work of the Holy Spirit.
Appropriately enough, the Eastern Churches celebrate the feast of All Saints on the Sunday after Pentecost. This effectively makes the connection between Pentecost and the becoming a saint obvious. One cannot become a Saint without the Holy Spirit's indwelling. May the all Holy, Good, and Life Creating Spirit empower us to constantly seek His aid, now and forever, and to the ages of ages! Amen.