May 25th to June 4th, between the celebrations of Ascension to Pentecost, is an Anglican/Episcopal initiative to pray, ‘Thy Kingdom Come…’
Join with the family of God to pray ‘Come Holy Spirit’, that we may be effective witnesses to Jesus Christ.
We’re used to celebrating Christmas and Easter and making the best of the opportunities they give. At All Saints’ Cathedral in Cairo, we always added another celebration, a cluster in May and June when we remember Jesus’ Ascension, Pentecost, and Trinity.
The three raise key questions for our Muslim friends and give us chance to explain how we understand and experience God.
Ascension Day is tucked away on a Thursday, so in Cairo, we celebrated it on the Friday and Sunday following. Friday is most people’s day off, and Sunday is the traditional day for Christians to meet either by taking a couple of hours off in the morning or coming together in the evening after work.
Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Acts 1:6-8 (NIV)
At first sight, it seems strange to celebrate that Jesus is not here. In Acts 1:6-8, his last words to his friends leaves their questions hanging, and we’re left with a memorable image. Two angels ask them why they’re staring into space (v10), and promise them Jesus will return the same way he left.
So they return to Jerusalem, back to their lives, which in the light of Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension can’t be the same again. They’re going to be transformed by the Holy Spirit into the renewed community of the Trinity, reaching out to anyone who will listen and welcoming all who join them.
But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
Acts 7:55-56 (NIV)
Where is he now? In Acts 7:55-56, Stephen sees him ‘standing at God’s right hand’, and is stoned to death for blasphemy. Romans 8:34 has him next to God, ‘interceding for us’. In Ephesians 1:20, Colossians 3:1 and four times in Hebrews, we’re told he’s ‘seated’. His work on the cross is done, his rule continues. Until one incredible day, when those who have been faithful will join him on his throne (Revelation 3:21). He’s seated, on his throne, at the right hand of the Father.
In other words, he is in charge of the world, despite the evidence and much of our experience.
As rumours of war make many people afraid, and as our friends in the Middle East attend their churches knowing they risk attack, you can see why the image of Jesus ascended is the standout one for them. Jesus is in charge, you can trust him, and one-day justice will be done and his rule established.
Enjoy the celebrations!
Canon Mike Parker
Middle East Director, Serving in Mission
Mike & Helen lived in Cyprus and Egypt for seven years until 2013. Now based back in Edinburgh, Mike is Middle East Director of SIM and frequently travels around the region. Our aim is to encourage national Christians and agencies in their witness. They are members of St Paul’s and St George’s Episcopal Church, Edinburgh, and are happy to be Granny & Grandad to two boys and a girl!