Alone together: The 2020 Pentecost paradox

On Pentecost Sunday 2020, many of us will not see the red paraments in person. Image by FatherRon2011 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.
On Pentecost Sunday 2020, many of us will not see the red paraments in person. Image by FatherRon2011 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Pentecost story begins with a sentence that in previous years was easily overlooked: “When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place” (Acts 2:1 CEB). After weeks of separation due to stay-at-home orders, social distancing and quarantine, those seven words, “they were all together in one place,” have renewed significance.

While the thought of being together for Pentecost worship on May 31, 2020, sounds good, for many of us it will be impossible. We’ll have to settle instead for celebrating online, using Zoom, Facebook, YouTube or some other remote option as we have since March.

We won’t see the red paraments in person, join the kids in singing “Happy Birthday” to the church during children’s time, or see our friends all dressed up in red for the day. Instead, we’ll worship from home, longing for the day when in-person worship will resume and we can again be together in one place.

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Pentecost 2020 reminds us that the Holy Spirit, who draws us together, is present with us while we remain apart.

Overcoming barriers

In Acts 2, we read the Pentecost story. With the rush of a mighty wind and individual flames of fire (the reason for all the red), the Holy Spirit comes upon the disciples in a powerful way. They then “speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak” (vs. 4).

Language barriers between the disciples and those who gathered from all over the world to celebrate Shavuot, a harvest festival also known as Pentecost, are overcome by the power of the Holy Spirit. Each person hears the disciples speak in his or her native language.

The disciples' invitation to join them in following Jesus is well received. "God brought about three thousand people into the community on that day," the Bible tells us. They went from small group to megachurch in a moment!

At the end of the story, the Holy Spirit's power to bring people together is evident. The “community of believers” worshiped, prayed, studied, and ate together. United Methodists are missing all of those things during these days of social distancing.

Alone together

The paradox of Pentecost 2020 is that we’re giving up our together time because we recognize our connectedness. Yes, we're apart. But because of the presence of the Holy Spirit, we are not alone. Pentecost reminds us of our connection to God and one another. 

Acts 2:47 tells us that the first church “praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone.” Online worship and social distancing are a couple of ways we are following their example today. 

Pentecost 2020 reminds us of how good it is when we are “all together in one place.” It also highlights that even when being together isn't possible, the Holy Spirit overcomes barriers like language and social distance to connect us with one another.

While we’re apart, we continue to be the church for one another, because the Holy Spirit is with us wherever we are.

*Joe Iovino works for UMC.org at United Methodist Communications. Email him.

The story was published May 21, 2020.