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Why Do We Wear Red on Pentecost?

This coming Sunday is Pentecost Sunday, on which we remember the descent of the Holy Spirit on that first Day of Pentecost following the Resurrection and Ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ. This Sunday initiates a whole season of Pentecost in which we remember that the whole of the Christian life, indeed the whole life of the Church is pneumatic, fueled and furthered by the powerful work of the Holy Spirit.

For a long time in England, the color worn for this Sunday was white, hence the term Whitsunday. Another interpretation of this term is that the Holy Spirit brought “wit” and wisdom to the Church. In the end, we have been wearing red, to remember the fire of the Holy Spirit, to cleanse and enlighten. As a prayer Bishop Iker shared with us several years ago states:

“Come, Holy Spirit, come!

Come as the wind and blow.

Come as the fire and burn.

Convict - convert - and consecrate us.

Set our hearts on fire with a love for Jesus,

and then use us as you will - for our great good and your great glory.”

At the beginning of every Christian life is the reality of the Holy Spirit who called us each into fellowship with the Triune God. If we were older, we were convicted of sin and converted. If we were small children and baptized, filled with the Holy Spirit, reborn to the new life of grace. Either way, Baptism, whereby we without doubt receive the Holy Spirit, began in us a cleansing fire, to give us hearts of flesh and not hearts of stone. The Holy Spirit, as Paul puts it, “bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16) and fellow heirs with Christ. We wear red to remind us of the great meaning at the heart of Pentecost, that our fleshly life has become suffused with the burning fire of the Holy Spirit, our lives set aflame with divine love.

We are often given to believe that meaning can come to us from a variety of sources. The first disciples, and every generation of Christians to come after them, discovered that true meaning is found in Christ. This week, I read a wonderful Pentecost homily of John Paul II, who preached in 1979 in Victory Square in Warsaw. Poland was still very much in the clutches of Soviet power seeking to rid Poland of her unique history, seeking to relieve the Church of her place in Polish society. To his fellow Poles, John Paul stood in courage and conviction and said:

“On the day of Pentecost there were gathered, in the Apostles and around them, not only the representatives of the peoples and tongues listed in the book of the Acts of the Apostles. Even then there were gathered about them the various peoples and nations that, through the light of the Gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit, were to enter the Church at different periods and centuries. The day of Pentecost is the birthday of the faith and of the Church in our land of Poland also. It is the proclamation of the mighty works of God in our Polish language also. It is the beginning of Christianity in the life of our nation also, in its history, its culture, its trials.

To Poland the Church brought Christ, the key to understanding that great and fundamental reality that is man. For man cannot be fully understood without Christ. Or rather, man is incapable of understanding himself fully without Christ. He cannot understand who he is, nor what his true dignity is, nor what his vocation is, nor what his final end is. He cannot understand any of this without Christ.”

We Christians gather together on Pentecost Sunday and indeed every Sunday of the year as a people who have gained the ultimate meaning possible for human beings, to be a people full of the life of God, as children of the loving Father, redeemed by the Incarnate Christ, and indwelt by his Holy Spirit. We gather to call upon the Holy Spirit to fall on our land and our city, to renew it and consecrate it, both for our good and for God’s glory!

The Holy Spirit renewed Poland to be a shining light in Eastern Europe during very dark years. Indeed, what John Paul kicked off in that homily was a force that would ultimately lead to the fall of the Berlin Wall. May the Holy Spirit renew our own nation and our own land in our own day!

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