Recently the church celebrated the festivals of Ascension and Pentecost, or rather a large proportion of the global church did. It’s not that we in CCW weren’t invited to join them but if these significant events passed by without you noticing them you are probably in the minority, globally speaking.
The festival of the Ascension is what it says, it marks when Jesus ascended to the Father in Heaven following His death, resurrection and frequent appearances to the disciples. Personally, I have no idea what that must have looked like to those present. Over the years of trying to explain it to GCSE pupils I have jokingly and somewhat irreverently speculated about the possible ways of propulsion that Jesus might have used. On balance though, I suspect that it was one more extraordinary event to add to their already full catalogue of inexplicable things that happened when Jesus was around. One minute there He was, talking to them about the realities of Heaven in their lives and the next, he was physically relocating there Himself.
By contrast, Pentecost is different in a number of respects but the main one seems to me to be this, instead of someone going from Earth to Heaven, this occasion involved someone coming from Heaven to Earth. Jesus had told them about this in John 16, so they shouldn’t have been surprised. He had said to them, unless the Son goes away (Ascension) the Father cannot send the Holy Spirit (Pentecost).
When Jesus was here on the Earth physically He was restricted by His physical body to being in one place at one time. On two occasions He commissioned His followers to go in His name and do what He was doing, heal the sick, raise the dead, preach the good news of the Kingdom. He occasionally seemed to send others as well, such as the man released from demonic control in the cemetery. All of these served as examples of what His greater intention was, to have His followers filled with and enabled to use the same authority from Heaven that He enjoyed.
This is the role of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the Father who lives fully in the Son and is now available to all His followers. Quite simple really, isn’t it? So, at that particular Pentecost celebration, all of the potential for the disciples was suddenly enabled and they took hold of it firmly, enthusiastically and with wonderful results.
We sometimes refer to Pentecost as the birth of the Church. In the sense that the Church has the task of bringing the life of Heaven onto the Earth more fully than has yet been seen, then I think that it’s a good description; happy birthday Church.