ascension thursday

Easter begins with the Resurrection and ends with Pentecost–the coming of the Holy Spirit. Between these two is Ascension: 40 days after rising from the dead and appearing to his followers numerous times, he ascends into heaven either while the disciples look on (Acts 1:9) or after withdrawing from them (Luke 24:51). Or the withdrawing from them was part of the ascension and they were looking on. In Luke they worship him and return to Jerusalem with joy. In Acts, they stand gazing into heaven until “two men in white robes” (angels?) tell them that he is gone, but it is okay, and he will return some day.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Baptism lately (for reasons that will become clear later) and am becoming convinced that in Acts anyway, the Christian Baptism that matters most is the Baptism of the Holy Spirit–coming to these followers 10 days later in Pentecost. Water Baptism may be an outward sign, a symbol of the covenant, but it is the Baptism of the Holy Spirit that is the sign of God’s work, that is the sign that shows Peter that Gentiles are okay, that brings in the thousands at Pentecost. But we’re not there yet. We’re at this 10 day blank. Jesus has been popping up here and there, but no longer will be doing so. He’s gone. He has told them to wait for the next thing. But for 10 days, they don’t know what that will be. So what do they do? In Acts, they are reassured by the men in white and then they return to Jerusalem and pray. In Luke they return to Jerusalem, to the Temple, and worship God. They have not been devastated by the loss the way they were the first time. They pray; they worship, and they wait. Not in despair, I think, but in anticipation.

So–two things.

First, am I caught between Ascension and Pentecost, waiting for the Holy Spirit or am I already filled with the Spirit? I am treating a Mystery of the Faith lightly here and summarizing positions that are far more nuanced–I think–than I am making them sound. This is just what I hear as a lay person listening. Baptists say that when you accept Jesus as your Savior (Baptism doesn’t come into it for them), you are immediately given God’s Holy Spirit–whether you feel anything or not. The pentecostal groups say you need to have a separate baptism of the Holy Spirit–and you’ll know. I can’t tell you what the Presbyterians think, but I’m working on it. If anyone with Reformed Theological training wants to correct me, please do. From what I am reading (at pcusa.org/101), the Spirit is the manifestation of God on earth working in and through people. There doesn’t seem to be a coming of the Spirit so much as the Spirit is always here, always at work. So we shouldn’t get stuck between Ascension and Pentecost because Pentecost, for us, has already happened.

And the other thing? Ascension always makes me think of my brother. When we were elementary school age, we did an Easter musical that included the ascension and Brother and another boy sang the parts of the “two men in white robes.” My tall, sandy-haired brother asking, “Why stand ye here looking up?” That is the picture of the ascension for me.

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