Sunday is Pentecost. It is the day that we celebrate the birth of the church, when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples in Jerusalem.
Sunday is also the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, a weekend which starts the summer season but is traditional a time of remembrance of deceased veterans and their sacrifices.
Which celebration gets the main focus? Will it be the celebration of the Holy Spirit’s presence and the mission of the church or will it be civil religion and its desire to honor our nation above all things?
The answer to this question says a lot about a church’s focus and where its heart truly lies. For what we honor and celebrate in worship, as many of my friends will argue, is what we will carry into our lives and our relationship with Christ.
If we focus on Pentecost, then our focus is on the mission of the church and how the Holy Spirit leads and directs us to be the witnesses of Christ. However, focusing on Memorial Day entirely in worship sends the message that devotion nation is more important than our relationship with God. This notion seems to be counter to much of Paul’s argument that we are citizens of heaven first and foremost.
Granted, this is not the only time that the mission of the church and the mission of civil religion would seemingly collide. Worship surrounding the Fourth of July can look too much like a national celebration than a celebration of the Triune God. What is perhaps unique about this weekend is that the differences between true religion of God and civil religion is glaring and hard to miss.
Worship leaders and pastors can certainly honor the memory of our veterans in worship, but the act of honoring must not take away from the act of worship of God. If it becomes a distraction, or even takes over the entire worship, then it is possible that we have misguided priorities for worship on this occasion.
Sunday offers a perfect opportunity to focus on the mission of the church. Let us be careful to not trip up the mission by being too focused on a time of honoring nation above true honoring of the Living God.
6 thoughts on “Pentecost or Memorial Day: Which Gets Main Focus on Sunday?”
Shannon, thanks for posting this. What a great teaching time for us as Pastors to talk about this “Holiday Weekend” that we celebrate. But this is so important because there will be some people in our churches who would get mad if we don’t make patriotic references, but few who would notice if we skipped Pentecost
My congregations will hopefully know, if they read their newsletter, that our sermon focus for Sunday will be Pentecost. In the year that I’ve been at the charge it has been rare if I have made reference, in the sermon, to the civic religion calendar. Perhaps the only time I have was September 11, when the passage for the day (forgiveness from Matthew 18), the 10 year anniversary, and the recent assassination of Osama Bin Ladin flowed together.
I’m not entirely opposed to bringing up the civic religion calendar if it can help to show a greater truth of Christ’s love and word. Of course, you have to be careful and there is a fine line in that. As I say that, I’m not entirely sure that the typical Memorial Day sermon on sacrifice would suffice, because to bring up the sacrifice of a soldier you almost have to debate just war or Christian pacifism.
Shannon, I’ve been telling the congregation about the plan for Pentecost Sunday for 6 weeks as we journeyed through a series on the Apostles’ Creed. That we would at the conclusion of the Pentecost Service, remember are Baptism, and that they wouldn’t want to miss this service. I actually had someone tell me if that if it’s going to be that good then shouldn’t I just delay Pentecost so people could enjoy Memorial Day weekend. I asked her if we should delay Christmas services for the same reason, she didn’t get it.
I think what you describe is something of a greater issue, and perhaps something I should write about in the coming weeks. Our identity is more tuned to the civil calendar (last day of school is the new first day of summer, seasons of the year defined by farming, etc.). We are living in a time where the average worship attender doesn’t have a basic understanding of the “big days” of the church outside of Christmas and Easter.
As pastors, we have to get back to the basics about what these days mean. You’ve given me an idea of how to do that for Sunday, my friend.
“… some people in our churches who would get mad if we don’t make patriotic references, but few who would notice if we skipped Pentecost.”
What a telling sign of the state of Christians, today!
The church that I visited on Sunday made no mention of Pentecost and had all the predictable comments about Memorial Day.
And, of course, for us as American Christians, this subject is pretty much taboo:
We had an interesting mixture in the community that I serve. We focused on Pentecost and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. I did mention Memorial Day in the prayer time, which I believe is appropriate. But, the main purpose was a recognition of the Spirit.