Combining words and images is a powerful way to communicate the gospel. For Pentecost in 2011, we designed a service focused on four symbols of Pentecost: breath, wind, fire, and dove.
Todd selected Scriptures and wrote reflections for each image. Amy prepared for a visual presentation of the four symbols to unfold during the readings. Choral music and hymns were selected to follow each reading, highlighting each symbol.
For the presentation part of the worship service, all lights in the sanctuary were turned off except the pulpit light and a spotlight. As Scriptures and reflections for each of the symbols were presented by Todd from the pulpit, Amy stood behind a large specially made fabric canvas and painted simple designs on the back of it with fabric dye. The designs showed through on the front of the canvas, creating a composite of breath, wind, fire, and dove. The front lighting from the spotlight meant that the congregation only saw the images appearing through the fabric, not the painter herself.
Videos of each of these images being created are available to help you visualize the process:
This was a meaningful Pentecost worship service for the congregation. While not overly high tech, the effect of the images appearing on the canvas was magical, with members gasping and whispering at each new image. While we usually focus on one of these images at a time in worship, this composite approach invited the congregation to consider how the images used in Acts are meant to build on each other and interact as a meaningful whole.
Many of the things we do to celebrate Pentecost are ephemeral—they last a moment in worship and then they are gone—but the canvas remained in the sanctuary for several weeks and then was hung in our fellowship hall for the rest of the year. Members of the congregation were overheard explaining it to others who had not been present that Sunday and to guests as a way of illustrating how this congregation embraces creativity.
Preparing the Canvas
- 4 x 6-foot wood frame (ask a carpenter in your congregation to help build it)
- White 100% cotton percale with a high thread count; pre-washed, dried, and ironed
- Staple gun
- RIT liquid fabric dyes in red, orange, and yellow
- Non-tippable container for each dye color
- ½-inch flat craft paintbrush, one per color
Stretch percale cloth over the frame so it looks like an artist’s canvas. Staple the cloth to the frame using a staple gun. The percale fabric allows the fabric dye to show through on both sides—heavier painters’ canvas would not—and the high thread count keeps the dye, which is a thin liquid, from bleeding and running too much.
Clamp the frame to something sturdy, such as a pair of sawhorses, so the frame stands perpendicular to the floor and high enough for the congregation to see it when they are seated. It’s important that the frame stay firmly upright when the artist is working behind it. Place a dropcloth beneath the mounted canvas to catch any dye that may fall on the floor.
Practice painting the images on scrap percale stretched in a quilter’s hoop.
Before the worship service, position a bright spotlight in front of the canvas so the light illuminates the canvas.
“Come, Holy Spirit, Our Souls Inspire” (R. Haan) LUYH 231, WR 325
“Spirit of the Living God” TH 337, LUYH 749
Call to Worship
You have called us to be your people, O God.
Breathe into us your Spirit so we may live!
You have called us together as a church, O God.
Set us on fire that we may worship you with passion!
“Come, Holy Spirit, Heavenly Dove” (St. Agnes)
Prayer of Confession
Holy Spirit, how we need you!
Our vision is dim, our dreams too small.
Come, Holy Spirit: inspire and direct us.
Our body is broken, our unity breached.
Come, Holy Spirit: heal and revive us.
Our lives are cluttered, our souls clogged.
Come, Holy Spirit: blow life into us.
Our hearts are cold, our faith feeble.
Come, Holy Spirit: kindle a fire within us.
Fill this place with songs of praise.
Fuel our lives with power and grace.
Renew this church, this community, this world, we pray,
that we might glow with the light of your love
and show forth your salvation.
(Personal prayer in silence)
Assurance of Pardon
Jesus promised the Holy Spirit—a helper, an advocate, God’s own presence within us. Receive the Spirit of God, and may the fresh winds of forgiveness blow freely within you.
We are filled with the Spirit, filled with God’s forgiveness. Alleluia! Amen!
Sharing the Peace
“Glory Be to the Father” LUYH 959, 961, PH 577, 578, 579, PsH 635, TH 734, 735, GTG 580, 581
To Receive God’s Word
“Be Still and Know” LUYH 907, SWM 1, WR 450, GTG 414
Time with Children
Scriptural Image: The Spirit Comes as God’s Breath
Genesis 2:4b-7, Ezekiel 37:1-10, and John 20:19-22 (all three passages are read as the images are painted)
How do you breathe air into someone else? Many of you have taken classes in CPR, so you know the technical answer. But imagine someone who has never heard of that technique, someone seeing it for the first time. To them it might look like . . . a kiss. Humanity’s creation was a moment of incredible tenderness, incredible intimacy, incredible love. Our life is a gift from a God who stoops to kiss us to life through the Holy Spirit.
This is particularly good news, Ezekiel reminds us, when we feel like all hope is gone and we are nothing but dry bones, when all the institutions and relationships that have protected us or given life meaning have been destroyed, when all our dreams have come crashing down and all our efforts to revive them ourselves have failed. It is then that the prophet tells us what he told Israel: it is the Spirit that fills us with life-giving breath.
In case you missed Scripture’s point, John (who does not seem to know about Luke’s Pentecost account but does know about the gift of the Spirit) tells us twice that the resurrected Christ appeared to and breathed on his disciples. (Is that like blowing kisses?). That is all it took for them to be given the gift of the Spirit. It is enough.
So breathe easy; you have been brought back to life!
“Breathe on Me, Breath of God” LUYH 747, PH 316, PsH 420, TH 334, WR 461, GTG 286
Scriptural Image: The Spirit Comes as the Wind
John 3:1-9 and Acts 2:1-2
The Scriptures also picture God’s Spirit as wind. That image conveys something of the sovereignty and mystery of God’s presence in our world. We do not know where it comes from or where it goes, but there is no mistaking its reality and power. (Think wind farms; think hurricanes and tornados; think a warm spring breeze after a hard winter. Real. Powerful.) By this power God changes the course of history and the church is born. By this power God will alter the landscape of the earth to reflect divine design and purpose. By this power God causes the ship that is the church to sail out of the harbor in search of distant shores.
“Wind Who Makes All Winds That Blow” (st. 1) LUYH 239, SNC 169, WR 333
Scriptural Image: The Spirit Comes as Fire
Acts 2:3-4 and Romans 12:1-2
The image of God’s presence as fire is found throughout the pages of Scripture. The image vividly portrays God’s holy presence—a consuming, refining, illuminating presence. All these facets are present in the image of the Holy Spirit’s descent on the disciples at Pentecost.
Another common reference to fire in the pages of Scripture is the role fire plays in taking a sacrifice and delivering it to God. Here too, it fits what happened at Pentecost. Cleansed by the work of Christ, we have become living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God.
Let us burn with holy fire!
“Wind Who Makes All Winds That Blow” (st. 2 and 3) LUYH 239, SNC 169, WR 333
Scriptural Image: The Spirit Comes as a Dove
Genesis 8:1-12, 20-22 and Matthew 3:13-17
One final image: After the flood of judgment, a dove brings Noah a sign of new creation—an olive branch. It’s a sign that judgment will not be the final word. God makes a place for us again, and God makes a promise: never again! He hangs the bow of judgment in the sky like a gunslinger hanging up his six-shooter.
A dove descends on Christ as his ministry begins. It too is a sign of new creation and of judgment not being the final word. Because Christ has come in our flesh and stands in the place of sinners, judgment will not be the last word. Instead, by grace, there will be a new creation, a place for sinners like you and me in God’s newly cleansed world. It is the Spirit, in the form of a dove, that brings us this good news! So rejoice this Pentecost day, rejoice in this sign of God’s grace, for we are a new creation!
“Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart” (st. 1 and 4) WR 132, GTG 688
To Respond in Faith
Across the centuries since the church was founded,
the Spirit has formed and identified it.
We recognize the true church of Jesus Christ
wherever the work of the Spirit is evident:
in preaching and sacraments,
in the new life and continuous growth of believers,
in the sharing of spiritual gifts and material things,
in mission and service to the world.
The boundaries of the church are not clearly known to us,
but God knows those who are his.
(from “A Declaration of Faith,” PCUSA)
Offering Ourselves and Our Gifts
“Come Down, O Love Divine” (W. Held) LUYH 234, WR 330, GTG 282
“Praise God, from Whom All Blessings Flow” LUYH 964, 965, PH 591, TH 731, WR 34, GTG 606
Prayer of Dedication
To Live as Disciples
“Come, O Spirit” WR 329, GTG 280
“Go With Us, Lord” WR 747, GTG 748
Recessional in F Major (C. Doige)