The Fiftieth Day

Donald A.G. Burling Pentecost

by Donald A.G.Burling

Pentecost in the Park Northampton

The Jews were an agricultural people, and their year tended to follow the harvest program. This began immediately after the Passover festival, when firstfruits of green barley were presented in the temple.

They were then told to count seven sabbaths before holding a sort of interim harvest festival, before they began to harvest the wheat. This festival was known as the feast of Weeks , and was one of three annual times of pilgrimage to Jerusalem. In Greek, the language of the New Testament, it was called Pentecost from the word for fifty, the number of days enclosed by seven Sabbaths plus one.

It was this time, when so many pious Jews would be together, that God chose to release His public vindication of the mission of Jesus which had been such an apparent failure. After the initial vision of flames falling on each one of them, the disciples were inspired to rush out into the street speaking strange languages – languages they may not have not understood themselves but were understood by other from parts of the Jewish Diaspora.

It seems that for the first three centuries of the Christian era, when the church was always more or less under persecution, manifestations of the Holy Spirit , including “tongues” became commonplace. But when the Roman Emperor Constantine adopted Christianity and Christians became under state patronage they began to forget their need of divine power. In time over the centuries, odd cases of what we may call charismatic manifestations were heard of but the official church always regarded them as heresies. It was not until the beginning of the 20th century that examples of people speaking in tongues and exercising other gifts such as healing began to come to light on any scale. Respectable Christians always regarded these with horror. Those who practiced them were often excluded from churches and began to form their own churches which were described as “Pentecostal”.

By the early 1970s most of the churches were sufficiently humbled so as not to reject too readily anything that challenged their traditional way of thinking yet many found it difficult to accept that Roman Catholics and Evangelicals could both be inspired by the same Holy Spirit.

On this Pentecost Sunday there has been a call by Jonathan Olyede of the National Day of Prayer and Worship movement (NDOPW) for what they call a Pentecost Flash Mob. He wants Christians of all denominations to come together at 3pm in public places to pray together and to sing a new hymn “We seek your kingdom”. More details can be found at

Here in Northampton there is to be a “Pentecost in the park” event in the afternoon in Abington Park which I hope to attend. What is happening in your area?

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