WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) – Thursday was the traditional date for the Feast of the Ascension of the Lord, forty days after the resurrection. In some Roman Catholic provinces, the solemnity has been moved to Sunday.
For our Lord, this was the day he ascended into heaven, being seated at the right hand of God the Father. For the disciples, this was the beginning of a vigil – nine days of waiting for the coming of the Holy Spirit.
On the day of His ascension, Jesus was with His apostles. St. Luke writes in the Acts of the Apostles, “While meeting with the them, he enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for ‘the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak; for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.'”
There’s an interesting question I’ve often pondered. What if the apostles had left the Jerusalem early? What if they had missed Pentecost?
The twelve had already proven what they could do if left to their own devices. Most deserted the Lord at the time of His arrest and St. Peter even denied Him.
During the days of Christ’s post-resurrection appearances, however, much of their faith had been restored and their hurts healed by His grace and love. About the ascension, St. Luke records “As he blessed them he parted from them and was taken up to heaven. They did him homage and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy and they were continually in the temple praising God.” (Luke 24:51-53)
While they were ready to worship, were they ready for the work? In St. John’s Gospel, Jesus tells them during his time of ministry to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12)
He wasn’t going to leave them orphans. In fact, His plan was even greater than could be expressed had he stayed on earth. He was going to send the Third Person of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit, to dwell in them and empower them to do these great works.
St. Luke wrote the Acts of the Apostles to document these early days of miracles and mission. With Matthias selected to take the place of Judas Iscariot, the Twelve now set out, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to carry out the ministry our Lord had begun.
The description of Christ’s ministry on earth from Matthew 9:36 equally be used to describe what was now taking place through a dozen men who were ordaining others to carry out the work with them.
St. Matthew writes, “Jesus went around to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness. At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd.”
The harassed and helpless people of the world were being given words of healing and hope through the ministry of the apostles. The deaf could hear, the lame could walk and the Gospel of the Kingdom was bringing men, women and children into a life of Holy Grace.
So, what if the apostles had left Jerusalem too early?
They would have been moved by the events but not really changed. They would not have been equipped to carry out the work that He had given them to do nor the strength to persevere.
Jesus had given them a lesson on what they could expect by the power of the Holy Spirit just after the Last Supper with them in the Upper Room.
He told them that the Holy Spirit would convict the world in regard to sin and righteousness and condemnation. How wonderful to know that bringing conviction would not be their responsibility but His. Their work was proclamation and demonstration; God Himself would bring about the result.
Our Lord also said that the Holy Spirit would guide them into all truth. They had been given a great treasury of teaching from Jesus; now, it would be kept pure and unadulterated for future ears and eyes.
There is also much more that they had learned from Him concerning the Holy Spirit during their time with Him on earth.
So, what if they had missed the tongues of fire on the Day of Pentecost?
It isn’t so much the manifestation that would have been missed but the anointing that came at that moment. Language was no longer a barrier and boldness was not a problem.
The Church was aflame with faith, signs and wonders. The apostle that denied the Lord three times now spoke with authority and added three thousand to the Church with one sermon. What a time these men-on-fire were having!
St. Luke records this in Acts 2: “Awe came upon everyone, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need.
“Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes. They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” (vs. 43-46]
While we really don’t know what might have happened, we can certainly see what may have been missed.
Thanks be to God; the apostles did wait.
Remember, the Novenas of our Church are based on this model of nine days for faithful follow-through. Let us not neglect our own vigilance and miss the grace that God wants to pour out on our own Pentecost!
Randy Sly is the Associate Editor of Catholic Online and the CEO/Associate Publisher for the Northern Virginia Local Edition of Catholic Online (http://virginia.catholic.org). He is a former Archbishop of the Charismatic Episcopal Church who laid aside that ministry to enter into the full communion of the Catholic Church.