1 June 2022

'The Jubilee and Pentecost – what a significant juxtaposition of celebrations!'

Major David Alton

A photo of the Bible open at Acts 2: The Holy Spirit comes at Pentecost
Major David Alton reflects on the meaning and experience of Pentecost, an event that, this year, falls on the final day of the four-day Platinum Jubilee celebrations.

I got the day off school for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977. I do not recall how I marked the Golden Jubilee in 2002, but I do remember singing and dancing with friends at an open-air concert in London as part of Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 2012.

Recollections of such occasions can be sketchy, unless one has total recall or an extensive collection of diaries. That said, commemorative mugs and other memorabilia may stir one’s memories.

The Platinum Jubilee is an opportunity to give thanks to God for the life of Her Majesty the Queen and celebrate her 70 years of dedicated service. The Queen’s Christian faith has been a great source of strength and comfort to her. In her Christmas message in 2000 she said: ‘For me the teachings of Christ and my own personal accountability before God provide a framework in which I try to lead my life.’ More recently, in her Christmas broadcast in 2020, she stated: ‘The teachings of Christ have served as my inner light.’

Queen Elizabeth II walking through a crowd of uniformed Salvationists
March 1986: Accompanied by General Frederick Coutts, the Queen arrives to open The Salvation Army's Booth House hostel in Whitechapel, London

Her Majesty’s personal testimony is consistent with her historic title of ‘Defender of the Faith’ and speaks to how her Christian faith underpins her life, work and service.

This year’s Pentecost Sunday falls on the final day of the four-day Platinum Jubilee commemoration and celebrations. Pentecost is a day when Christians commemorate and celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Platinum Jubilee and Pentecost – what a significant juxtaposition of celebrations!

The Day of Pentecost itself involves a juxtaposition of celebrations. Pentecost, meaning ‘50th day’, refers to the Jewish festival of Shavuot celebrated on the 50th day after Passover. It is one of three annual Jewish harvest festivals, as well as being a thanksgiving for the first fruits of the wheat harvest (see Leviticus 23:17). In addition to the marking of harvest, Jewish tradition suggests that it was at Shavuot that Moses received the Law – the Torah – from God. No wonder that, when the Day of Pentecost came, ‘there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under Heaven’ (Acts 2:5) – they were there for Shavuot and all that it meant.

Why did God choose that day to fill followers of Jesus with the Holy Spirit as Jesus had promised in Acts 1:4? Why do the two celebrations occur together?

The Holy Spirit comes at Pentecost

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.

Read Acts 2

Two key events in the life of Jesus revealed that there was no longer distance between humanity and God: in the Nativity ‘the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us’ (John 1:14) and in the Crucifixion our sins were forgiven. At Pentecost the coming of the Holy Spirit showed us that we were also no longer denied access to the abiding presence and power of God.

On Mount Sinai, when God revealed his teaching to Moses, he descended in fire and his presence was cloaked in clouds and smoke. At Pentecost, as God the Holy Spirit came upon the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem, the presence of God came as ‘tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them’ (Acts 2:3).

Through the power of the Holy Spirit, those believers were filled, sealed and sanctified and the Church came into being. Today the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit empowers the Church in mission, witness and service and enables all believers to grow in likeness to Jesus.

Jesus had previously told his followers what would happen. Even before his death and resurrection he said: ‘All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you’ (John 14:25–27).

Jesus explained that the Holy Spirit as ‘the Advocate’ – helper, adviser or counsellor – would come to teach us ‘all things’ and remind us of the words of Jesus. The Spirit guides us to apply all Jesus said and did to every aspect and facet of our lives and how we live. The Spirit draws us back to the words of Jesus, as referenced by the Queen in her Christmas messages.

As thinking, reflective believers, our words, actions and thoughts must be tested against the words of Jesus. He told us the truth and spoke words of life, and we must explore and discover the depth of that truth, which is where the Advocate comes to help and empower us.

As the Holy Spirit works in us and through us, he will, if we are open, willing and obedient, change us into the likeness of Jesus himself in our words, deeds and attitudes.

The celebration of the Platinum Jubilee is locked into our calendar. The celebration of Pentecost is also in our calendar, but the experience of Pentecost – the coming of the indwelling, empowering Holy Spirit – is not a static, one-off event to be commemorated. It is a personal, dynamic relationship to be experienced by followers of Jesus.

Jesus told his followers: ‘I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high’ (Luke 24:49). Our relationship with God the Holy Spirit involves us being clothed with power from on high. It is an experience that empowers us to live like Christ, to grow the fruit of the Spirit.

There is no call for commemorative Pentecost mugs, tea towels or fridge magnets. We do not need a historic souvenir to remind us of a date or day. The wonderful truth about Pentecost is that it is an ongoing experience of God the Holy Spirit, a relationship that enables, empowers and directs us – individually and collectively – as the body of Christ on Earth. Now that is something to celebrate!

Written by

Major David Alton

Major David Alton

Corps Officer, Boscombe

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