Pentecost & Shavuot – The Twin Virtues

On the second Sunday following Ascension Thursday falls the Pentecost, originally a Hebrew harvest festival known as Shavuot (חג השבועות, “Festival of Weeks”) or the Day of First Fruits.  It is also called White Sunday in some Northern European countries.

As often happens, this year the Pentecost dozenal falls inside Rose Season.  But even though Unitarian Reform is more focused on the 12 Days of Thorns this year, Pentecost is still an important holiday, the afterword of the Lent-Ascension cycle.

Meaning of the Season.  In Judaism, this day commemorates the descent of the Law on Mt. Sinai, but in Christianity it commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit on followers of Jesus.  Taken together, these two express the complementary virtues that are the underlying theme of Abrahamic spirituality — Faith and Hope, Law and Wisdom, Son and Spirit, Lion and Lamb, Serpent and Dove, the Two Trees of Knowledge and Life — the same complementary virtues displayed on Ascension Thursday.

In both cases, a great flowering resulted.  Just as the Jewish people were bound by the physical ties of tribe and family, Christians are bound by the mental ties of concept and idiom. So, in Jewish tradition, Mt. Sinai became covered in blooms and greenery after the Law was revealed, a material flowering. In Christian tradition, the descent of the Spirit resulted in the crowds in Jerusalem being able to understand the Gospel in their own languages, a mental flowering.

For Reform Unitarianism, these parallel revelations on Shavuot/Pentecost represent a great reconciliation of complementary goods: punitive Law which outlines strict rules of conduct to protect us from the perils of the material world, and benevolent Wisdom which over-rules the obstacles of language to protect us from the perils of ideology and cultural/linguistic isolation.

[An earlier version was published on previous Pentecost Sundays]