Formations 05.28.2023: Unexpected Joy

Joel 2:12-14, 28-32

My church has a tradition that everyone wears bright colors on Pentecost Sunday. The people who know about liturgical traditions tell us that red is the preferred color for Pentecost, symbolic of the tongues of fire that fell upon the first disciples in Acts 2. And red is certainly in evidence in my church on that day—along with orange, yellow, pink, blue, and every other color in the rainbow. In addition, the sanctuary ceiling is festooned with streamers of red, yellow, and orange, and the service begins with a procession of children waving colorful streamers.

I’ve come to expect Pentecost to be an explosion of color. It’s vibrant. It’s flamboyant. It’s alive.

So today I find myself pondering how the Scripture text that Peter quoted in his address to the crowds on the church’s first Pentecost comes out of a context of deep sorrow. Though we can’t say with confidence when the prophet Joel lived, it was a time of deep crisis involving locust swarms that foretold even greater troubles in the future. Therefore, in chapter 2 the prophet calls on God’s people to return to the Lord with fasting, weeping, and mourning.

This repentance, he says, will result in an outpouring of God’s Spirit on “all flesh,” revealing prophecy, dreams, and visions to the recipients. It is an all-encompassing promise involving men and women, old and young, free and enslaved.

God’s response to catastrophe is to bestow a gift that changes everything. God pours out the Spirit, and even in the deepest shadow of despair, “all flesh” can find an explosion of color and life.

Peter quotes this ancient promise in a vastly different context, but to the same point: No one is beyond the reach of the Spirit’s life-changing power. No matter our background or life experiences, no matter how dim life seems to be, there is hope. There is vibrancy and flamboyance and life…and power.


• How might Joel’s promises apply to the life of the church today?
• What can we learn from the diversity of people to whom the Spirit is promised?
• How does your church celebrate Pentecost? How does this celebration speak of life, joy, and power?
• What does it mean to “receive the Spirit”?
• What is the relationship between repentance and receiving the Spirit?

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.


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