Updated: Nov 7
I have decided to settle into a pattern of sending out a blog post on the last Friday of each month (as best I can). So it is that this last Friday of May situates us within the shortest season of the Church's year, Ascensiontide. We have celebrated Christ's return to the glory of God in the heavens, as recounted in Acts chapter 1, and we wait patiently with the disciples for the coming of God's promised Holy Spirit. This will be the focus of our celebration of Pentecost this coming Sunday. We know that God's Spirit is with us always; nonetheless, as we keep this season of Ascensiontide, we are invited to re-enter that time of waiting; God's life-giving Spirit is coming but not yet.
We are told that after Christ's return to the Creator, the disciples, together with certain women (including Mary the mother of Jesus) and Jesus' brothers, were "constantly devoting themselves to prayer" (Acts 1.14). Having a renewed discipline of prayer for this season can never go far wrong for us either, if we are wondering what to do with our time! Yet, I am left wondering what the mood of these prayers was. For some, we might imagine a great sense of anticipation, excitement even, that Jesus has promised them the gift of God's Spirit. Jesus has commissioned them to take the good news of God's kingdom out "in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth". Everywhere. They have a vocation, a task set before them, and their prayers are of excited preparation, as they are raring to get going. Is that how you feel, as we approach this Pentecost? What has God asked you to do in God's service? What new adventure lies ahead of you that you cannot wait to get started? This is Ascensiontide, season of preparedness and excitement.
Alternatively, you may, like me, be feeling somewhat differently. It was on the Feast of Candlemas that I left my previous parish role to devote myself full-time as an iconographer and Christian artist. Candlemas is often regarded as the pivot point in the Church's calendar, that moment when we change the direction of our focus, from Christ's birth towards the road to Jerusalem and His death. For me, Ascensiontide also bears something of this change in perspective. Throughout the weeks of Eastertide, we have sustained our Alleluias as we celebrate Christ's resurrection from the dead. We recognise that in Christ's defeat of death, God's kingdom has come on earth in the form of His living presence. We hear over and over the various encounters the disciples and others had with the risen Christ. Then, somewhat out of the blue (even if Christ had told them, we know how rubbish the disciples were at working out His meaning!), Christ disappears again from their sight as He returns to the heavens. OK. Change of Plan. Not what they were really expecting. He's gone. Again. What next?
It is possible for us to identify Ascensiontide, therefore, with this change of perspective. We turn away from any thoughts we might have had of Christ himself ushering in God's kingdom, from His geographically-limited location in ancient Palestine, and we are invited instead to embrace a completely new vision of kingdom-living. We are the ones being empowered to take God's message out into the world, to live within God's kingdom each and every day of our life, wherever we find ourselves. This may have been God's plan all along but it certainly constitutes a change of perspective that might require a little time for us to get our heads around. So, during this period of "betwixt and between", I have a different view of Jesus' followers' devotion to prayers. Perhaps they were the "Oh God, you have abandoned us", "Oh my God, what now?", "God, I haven't a clue what to do; you'll have to help me" kind of prayers. As I embrace periods of radical change, times of embracing a new perspective on life, these are closer to the kinds of prayers that I might utter. I have made a start in living out my priestly vocation differently; I know and trust that God will by the Divine Spirit equip me for all that lies ahead; yet I still find myself wondering what exactly is going to happen next and how I will be able to embrace this change more fully. So perhaps, this is how you feel, as we approach Pentecost? What changes or turning point are you facing that makes you less in a mood of excitement and more of nervousness or apprehension? This is Ascensiontide, season of tentative waiting and seeking God's help for whatever lies ahead.
The good news, of course, is that whichever way we experience this season, God promises the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is the assurance that in our excitement for new adventures, we will be led along amazing paths of a kind we cannot ask or imagine. This is the assurance that in our apprehension, we will be strengthened to face whatever challenges we might face or perceive along the unknown paths ahead because God's perfect love casts out all fear. Either way, we pray: "Be exalted, O God, above the heavens." and "Come Holy Spirit, kindle in us the fire of Your love." This is Ascensiontide.
The Birth of the Church - a study of Pentecost (acrylic on canvas)
Fine art icon print - a reminder...
I have now placed the first print run order for high quality fine art prints of my icon of St Photina (double-mounted for a 16" x 20" frame). They should be available for despatch within the next week to ten days. If you haven't already reserved one and would like to, there is a limited number still available at £75 (including P&P to mainland UK). Please email me at email@example.com or contact me via my website. For those of you who have already placed an order, thank you; I will be sending out details for payment once the prints arrive with me.