(May 22, 2015) It’s a little odd that two significant and often overlooked holidays fall together on this long weekend when a lot of people are away. Memorial Day and Pentecost share a few sad things in common. If we stopped and asked the average person at the Mall what the meaning of Memorial Day is about, most of them would tell us that it marks the official beginning of summer. If we questioned the average churchgoer off the cuff as to the significance of Pentecost, if they’re honest, a good number of people would respond, “I have no idea.”
I said this was sad, and it is. For it signifies the loss of a sense of tradition, both nationally and faith-wise. When you lose your traditions, you also lose, bit by bit, your values and your identity as a people. We already know that commercialization of American national holidays has disconnected us to their original purpose – away from a link to our history and values as a nation, in favor of barbeques and discount sales. To be candid, the men and women who have given up their lives for us in the Armed Forces (that are the main purpose of Memorial Day) did so that we COULD have the freedom to enjoy ourselves. However, to totally lose sight of the reasons we have national holidays is to put our knowledge of where we’ve come from at great risk. And how very much at risk that knowledge already is! A recent Newsweek poll of 1000 Americans about history showed that, for some reason, we don’t feel very compelled to pay attention to our history. When NEWSWEEK recently asked these U.S. citizens to take America’s official citizenship test, 29 percent couldn’t name the vice president. Seventy-three percent couldn’t correctly say why we fought the Cold War. Forty-four percent were unable to define the Bill of Rights. And 6 percent couldn’t even circle Independence Day on a calendar.
As far as Pentecost goes, it’s THE official birthday of the Church itself – with Christ having physically gone back to God the Creator, it’s the first time Christianity stepped forth, on its own. The only armor for the first believers against the powers of darkness was their own love and adherence to Jesus’s teachings, and the filling of the apostles with the Holy Spirit. We celebrate it to remind ourselves that we are the heirs of Christ, sons and daughters of God, and we are charged to keep alive God’s plan until Christ comes again. In our own church, after the red of Pentecost, the paraments (the linens on the Bible and pulpit) are changed to green, and will stay green until the first Sunday of Advent. That green color is the color of hope, which is what carries us throughout the year and throughout our lives. That’s why the Pentecost tradition counts.
What's so important about tradition?
Blogger Frank Sonnenberg astutely answered the question, “What’s so important about tradition?” He said, “Tradition contributes a sense of comfort and belonging. It brings families together and enables people to reconnect with friends. Tradition reinforces values such as freedom, faith, integrity, a good education, personal responsibility, a strong work ethic, and the value of being selfless. Tradition provides a forum to showcase role models and celebrate the things that really matter in life. Tradition offers a chance to say “thank you” for the contribution that someone has made.”
This coming weekend, I encourage you to make a place at your table to welcome tradition, and to learn that it’s not just about what we can get out of a holiday. It’s about what we can contribute to our own sense of belonging to one another.
– Pastor Pat Kriss