The word “Ascension” is an ancient metaphor which recognises the supremacy of Jesus the Christ over everything and everyone that ever did, does, or will exist. Similar metaphors are used in Ascension Day hymns: e.g. “Crown him with many crowns... hail him as thy matchless King through all eternity...”
These metaphors struggle to express what is experienced as the “sure foundation of hope” for all humankind.
Theologically, the word “hope” is much stronger and deeper than mere optimism. Christian hope is a confidence or trust that something will happen because the Threefold God, speaking through the language of both Old and New Testaments, has promised it.
The poetic language of Ascensiontide endeavours to make clear the unique experience of Jesus as Messiah or Christ (see Ephesians 4.9&10).
Ascention Day, which was on May 30th this year, was followed by Pemtecost or Whit Sunday, June 9. Pentecost, celebrated by Christians across the world, is honoured by Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Eastern Orthodox, and many other Protestant churches. Churches that use liturgical colours generally wear red on Pentecost to symbolise the fire and power of the Holy Spirit. Centuries ago, some churches received new members on Pentecost Sunday. They were dressed in white.
This is why Pentecost is also known as White Sunday or Whitsunday.
Pentecost Sunday commemorates a vital event in Christian history, frequently recognised as “the birthday of the Christian Church.” The Bible recounts the event as follows: “[The apostles] were all together in one place. Suddenly... there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire... rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability” (Acts 2.1-4 NRSV).
The symbolism of powerful wind, fire and speech are part of my own Christian experience. I know myself driven and fired by the Holy Spirit. My latest published booklet is titled “Fire in the Heart: Contemplative Praying and Living.”
My other writings and public speaking, including my contributions to Ripon Gazette, are influenced by my experience of the boundless power of the Holy Spirit.
I was often privileged to be invited to gatherings of Christians to encourage them to hear and respond to the divine command to “Be silent before me” (Isaiah 41.1).
Meister Eckhart (c1260-c1328) rightly said, “all sounds and voices have to cease and silence, perfect stillness reign.”
The same boundless spiritual power brought the Church into existence and keeps it fully alive today. Resist the Holy Spirit and the Church inevitably dies.
Open the mind, heart and will to the Holy Spirit and the Church cannot help but spring back to life and bear an overflowing abundance of spiritual gifts and fruit.
Christian tradition, backed by Holy Scripture, speaks of spiritual “gifts” (see online). Gazette readers may recall that I wrote a series of columns on the more important “Fruit of the Spirit”: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
A Pentecost hymn pleads, “Come ... Holy Spirit ... shed a ray of light divine ... shine within these hearts of thine ... our inmost being fill ... give them joys that never end.”
Joy is the evidence of true Christian living which springs from heart-knowledge of Christ’s own self-giving love.