As I write this it is April we are celebrating the season of Easter, we remember the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and his appearances to the disciples in those days following.
Outside of my study window and in the hedgerows and fields as I drive around the benefice new life is showing. Lambs play in the fields, blossom and leaves are appearing and the spring bulbs, primroses and bluebells are well in flower. It seems that Easter is a celebration of new life for nature as well as the church.
May brings Ascension Day, for forty days we will have been celebrating the resurrection of Jesus and how by going to the cross, dying and rising to new life he defeated the power of sin and death. On Ascension Day we remember how he returned to his Father.
In the Acts of the Apostles chapter 1 Jesus orders his disciples not to leave Jerusalem but to wait there for the promise of the Father. ‘For John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’
John’s Gospel records how Jesus had promised them the Holy Spirit saying;
‘‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.’
Then rather cryptically Jesus adds;
‘‘I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.’
For the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, to come Jesus had to ascend to the Father, on Easter Day Jesus came to the disciples but on Ascension Day the world would see him no longer.
The book of Acts goes on to tell us that Jesus was ‘lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.’
The disciples remain looking up at the sky and suddenly two men in white robes appear beside them and say ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’
Jesus will return, one day when we least expect it, the same way as he left.
This brings us to the other great celebration that happens in May, the feast of Pentecost. The coming of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would come when he left and so the Disciples are gathered together in one place when a sound like rushing wind filled the house where they were. Tongues of flame appeared and divided, a flame resting on each one of them and they were able to speak in other languages as the Spirit gave them the ability.
The Holy Spirit gave the disciples the courage they needed to tell people about Jesus, who he was and why he came. The Holy Spirit enabled them to form the church so Pentecost is also the church’s birthday. Not the Anglican Church or the Roman Catholic Church or indeed any other denomination, but the birthday of the church as the body of Christ. Christian men, women and children, all equal, all worshipping Christ together.
This passage in Acts also contains one of my favourite versus in the bible. As the Holy Spirit gave the disciples the ability to speak in other languages so all the people of the Roman Empire who were in Jerusalem heard them speaking about Jesus in their own tongue. Some were amazed and perplexed but others sneered and said that the disciples were ‘filled with new wine’.
Peter stands before them and says ‘…these are not drunk as you suppose, for it is only 9 o’clock in the morning.’
Jesus had to go so that the Holy Spirit could come and the Holy Spirit came to fulfil scripture, that wonderful prophecy of Joel.
I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.
Even on the male and female slaves,
in those days, I will pour out my spirit.
As May progresses enjoy Ascension Day and look to the heavens expectantly, wait for the promise of the Holy Spirit, for He will surely come and embolden you if you let him and celebrate with us the Church’s birthday.