Daily Reading for May 11 • The Day of Pentecost
Pentecost is a noun. It is a good noun, strong and clear, confident of its identity, able to stand up in any room and say what it is. That’s what nouns are; that’s what nouns do. If you want definitions, nouns can give you definitions. Pentecost: An early harvest festival celebrated in the ancient Near East, among many peoples, including the Jews. Pentecost: An early harvest festival transformed into a celebration of the revelation of the law given at Sinai. Pentecost: The birthday of the church. Pentecost: A festival celebrated fifty days after Easter or, in Judaism, seven weeks and one day after Passover. Pentecost: The last day of the liturgical year and the beginning of ordinary time. Pentecost: The last Sunday of Easter. Pentecost is a noun: clear-eyed, level-gazed, certain of its identity.
But when you make Pentecost into an adjective, it grows anxious, nervous, and uncertain, standing first on one foot, then on the other. It wants to be a good adjective, as it runs around looking for a noun to modify, but doesn’t know which nouns and doesn’t know what we are talking about. The adjective is “Pentecostal.” We don’t admit we don’t know; we use the word and assume we know. . . . In spite of the fact that the church doesn’t know what the adjective means, the church insists that the word remain in our vocabulary as an adjective. The church is unwilling for the word simply to be a noun, to represent a date, a place, an event in the history of the church, refuses for it to be simply a memory, an item, something back there somewhere. The church insists the word is an adjective; it describes the church. . . . In the renewal of its life and witness, especially in times of faltering evangelism, the church seeks to reclaim, to recover that quality, perhaps reading, praying, asking, thinking, reflecting again on Pentecost. Perhaps that day will not be just a memory, but also a hope, something that will occur again.
From “On Being Pentecostal” by Fred B. Craddock, quoted in Best Sermons 1 edited by James W. Cox (Harper & Row, 1988).