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Ascension, Pentecost - Body of Loving

Ascension Day always falls on a Thursday; when I joined the Community, the days in between Ascension and Pentecost (ten days later) focussed on the coming of the Holy Spirit. This seemed totally logical to me, but many of the Sisters very much missed the former way of celebrating, where those days were a continuation of the celebration of the Ascension, followed by Pentecost, of which an Octave was kept (eight days celebrating, in this case, the Holy Spirit). I’ve always kind of felt that the disciples would have been concentrating on what was to come, so we should too. But, actually, wouldn’t it have been far more human if they looked at both what had happened and what was to come? What we actually know is that they were continually in the temple, blessing God (Luke) and devoted themselves to prayer (Acts). What they were praying about isn’t mentioned, and probably isn’t relevant. They were together, supporting each other and praying, waiting, anticipating what was to come. This must have included some processing of all that had happened, in order to prepare themselves for the coming of the Holy Spirit, and for all that Jesus called them to after that: to be his witnesses, not only in their local area, but also to Samaria and far wider than that.


So it seems that this is a case of both/and rather than either/or, at least as far as the ‘in-between’ days are concerned. Those days of waiting must have been fairly vital preparation for that day when the Holy Spirit fell, and they went out, in the power of God, to spread the message of good news. The years with Jesus, followed by the events surrounding his death and resurrection, completed in the finality of the ascension: the culmination of all that had happened since the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary; all focussed in that moment when the Holy Spirit fell upon the gathered disciples, sending them out. Those days together must have knit them closer, at a time when they could have fallen apart, as their leader was gone; united them as one Community, however human and fragile and divided; bound them, so that when the Holy Spirit came, they were at that point completely prepared. Ready – together. For the Spirit came when they were all together in one place. It came upon them as individuals, falling upon each one of them – but when they were together.


So it is right that we come together as a community of Christians to celebrate the day when the Holy Spirit came; that we celebrate this together, with whichever part of the body of Christ we are present with. It is right that this coming together happens on a regular basis, not just on the day of Pentecost. For we, too, are called to spread the message of God’s love, in whatever way and manner God asks us to. We, too, are given the power of the Holy Spirit to help us in that, in whatever way that manifests today. We, too, are not left comfortless and alone, even though it may often feel that way: God will, and does, work through us, often in ways beyond our realisation or imagining.


 Of course, sensing when it is the Spirit of God asking something of us and when it is not, can be rather complicated. Christians can, and do, get it wrong, and often in ways that are disastrous, if not more than disastrous. We come together as the Body of Christ, but we come together as a frail human Body as well. Peter discovered this all too well: leader of the disciples, the first to preach that inspiring sermon in Acts 2, that brought about 3 000 people to God, he also needed more teaching (see Acts 10), and Paul had to call him out on his behaviour in Antioch (see Galatians 2: 11-14). These are only the episodes we know about. God has not chosen perfect people to go and spread the gospel, but sinful, failing ones.


Maybe that’s why we need to be part of a Christian Community? One that will point out to us when we have gone astray (hopefully); one that will provide people to work to our weaknesses, and whom we can support by our strengths. Moreover, the celebration of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost is followed by the celebration of our God on Trinity Sunday: that is yet another reason why we come together as a community to worship. For the God we follow is three and yet is one (do find a proper theologian to explain that one, if it is explainable); so, as we follow a trinitarian God, is it not unsurprising that we, too, are called to worship together, are called to follow as one Body of Christ? that we are, though many, still one Body? For the only way we can really spread the good news is by spreading it together. How else can you tell people of a God of Love except by loving?

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