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Alleluia! We are in Eastertide! After the solemnity of the religious observance of Lent, it is exhilarating to rejoice in the resurrection, to proclaim “alleluia!” and to enjoy the white and gold of our church fabric and the flowers (which have been truly beautiful). Easter is such a high point in our year, and such a key element of our faith, that it’s easy to forget that there are two major celebrations that follow hard on its heels.
Ascension Day falls this year on 5th May. It’s always on a Thursday because it is the 40th day after Easter Sunday. It marks the last appearance of Jesus to the disciples after his resurrection at Easter. The name comes from the accounts in the Bible in the Gospels of Mark and Luke, and in the Book of Acts, that tell of Jesus being “carried up into heaven” – he “ascended” and returned to his Father.
And ten days after Ascension Day we have the Feast of Pentecost, the celebration of the day when God sent his Holy Spirit to empower the church to live the risen life of Christ. The risen Lord is no longer with us physically, as he was with the disciples, instead he has sent his Spirit to dwell within us and to enable us to be his body on earth. The celebration of Pentecost is an important completion of our celebration of Easter. Christ’s rising from the dead signifies that we do not need to fear death, because death is not the last word. Pentecost shows us that we do not need to try to live in the reality of that truth simply with our own determination and discipline, but in the power of the Holy Spirit within us.
If we are not careful, Christianity can seem like hard work, an endless list of things to do, observances to maintain, rules to keep. Historically there has been a large number of “oughts” and “shoulds” associated with the Christian religion. While many of these “oughts” and “shoulds” are designed to help us to create a framework that will enable our spiritual lives to flourish, they become nothing more than a burden if we forget that the essence of what we believe is that God loves us, wants the best for us and has given us the gift of the Holy Spirit to help us to follow him in his way. So we ask, with confidence, that we may be filled with the Holy Spirit, God living inside us, to empower us to live in him and with him, and to share his love with all around us. And in all this – we rejoice.
Come Holy Spirit!