Summary: A sermon for the period between Ascension Day and Pentecost
In many ways the period between the Ascension Day and Pentecost is a period of waiting for the church. I liken it to being in the third trimester of the pregnancy out of which the church is birthed.
The first trimester is the period between the birth of Jesus and his death. The period during which we learn more about Jesus’ life and purpose and during which time he calls the disciples and begins to teach them of what is to come. The second trimester is the period between the resurrection of Christ and his ascension. It’s a time of both renewal and transformation for the disciples. After the initial despair of the crucifixion there comes joy when they see the resurrected Christ, and Christ continues to teach them and to prepare them for their future.
The third and final trimester therefore, is this period we are now in liturgically, between the ascension of Christ when he is no longer physically with his disciples, and the day of Pentecost, the traditional birth of the church, when we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit and the beginning of the spread of the gospel and the birth of evangelism.
Of course, analogies like this are never perfect because spiritual analogies are always imperfect ways of describing the work and will of God, the trimesters are of unequal length, and I personally have always preferred to think of the birth of the church as being the time of the calling of the first disciples.
However, this analogy is hopefully a good way of us thinking about where we are now and what is coming ahead. We are still in the period of Easter, at least for another week. This means that some churches will keep the paschal candle burning, the candle that signifies the light of Christ until Pentecost, while there are some churches who blow the candle out at the end of Ascension Day to recognise this period of waiting and of expectation before we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit.
It could potentially have been quite a difficult or at least an uncertain time for the disciples. Having spent so long with Jesus before his death and having had the emotional roller coaster ride of his death and resurrection, to see him gone from them again might have left them facing an uncertain future. However, there is nothing in our reading from the book of Acts which would suggest this. We know from what we see written there that already there were a significant number of Christian believers, around 10 times as many as there were disciples.
Peter speaks to the gathered crowd of believers and reminds them that as the numbers of disciples must equal 12, that one more needs to be added to that number. I’ve always felt sorry for Justus that he wasn’t the one chosen out of the two candidates, but what we see here as Matthias is elected to join the apostolic Ministry of the disciples is the leadership of the church preparing itself for what was to come.
It is interesting to compare where the church is at this point in time, waiting for the Holy Spirit, with the words and the prayer of Jesus as he prays before his death for his disciples.