Sunday, May 28, 2017

Acts 2.1-21: A Day for...Weddings?

Pentecost lectionary readings focus on the day of Pentecost with its locked doors, rushing wind, tongues of fire, preaching and conversion (Acts 2:1-21). So it's interesting that Pentecost has more than one association with weddings, which are not mentioned at all in the text. Pieter Brueghel's painting "The Whitsun Bride", below, calls attention to an old folk practice and an alternate name for Pentecost.
Pieter Brueghel the Younger. The Whitsun Bride. 17th century. Private collection.
The folk practice was the adornment of a village "bride" with particular flowers followed by a parade through the village with the children "begging" as on Halloween. The parade took place the week after Pentecost, which is also called Whitsunday. The ceremony highlighted the Whitsun flower, pinksterbloem (which also means "a girl foolishly attired"), which may be one of several flowers blooming around the time of Pentecost. The combination of weddings and flowers brings to Pentecost more a feeling of Spring, fertility, and new life that is often more associated with Easter than Pentecost.

English poet Phillip Larkin tied weddings to Whitsun in his poem "The Whitsun Weddings". The poem recounts a train journey to London that might be real, imagined or conflated from several actual journeys. The day is Whitsunday, a day which offered a tax advantage for weddings making it an especially popular day for weddings. Several newly-married couples board the train on which the poet (or the persona whose voice is speaking the poem) is traveling.

The day's name, Pentecost, refers to the fifty days that passed between Easter and the day of Pentecost. But Pentecost also was called Whitsunday, contracted from White Sunday, presumably emphasizing the white garments of catechumens who were baptized on Pentecost. However, in England, the root of "white" became confused with the root for "wit" and the association changed from the white of baptismal garments to the wisdom dispensed by the Holy Spirit.

Today we think of Pentecost as "the birthday of the church" rather than a day particularly associated with weddings. But every liturgical day has a history of observance that may take its meanings well outside what we find in the text. How does the association of Pentecost with weddings change the way you think about the day?

For additional thoughts on Pentecost, click herehere or here. For thoughts on Genesis 11:1-9, click here.
How might you picture the power and presence of Pentecost winds through photography? Click on the Art&Faith Matters Facebook link here

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