One of the differences between life in the UK and life in some other European countries is the structuring of the annual holiday calendar – especially at this time of year, late spring and early summer.
Here, in the UK, we have a couple of ‘Bank Holidays’ – one at the start of the month and one at the end. Both Mondays. The first of the two seems to be more widely applicable (you realise that a lot of non-bank employees benefit). May Day – at the start of the month – has its roots both in pagan celebration and in the fight for workers’ rights.
Meantime, our continental cousins are much more religious at this time of year. Last week will have seen a holiday for many to mark the Christian occasion of Ascension while next Monday will be Pentecost Monday. Of course for many, both of these holidays are no more than an opportunity to extend the weekend.
But – like Christmas and Easter – they are reminders, for those who want to pay attention to them, of key events in the origins of Christianity. Both look back to events that are related in the early chapters of Acts.
- Ascension marks the moment when the risen Jesus left his disciples to return to heaven. The New Testament refers to him sitting down at the right hand of God. It speaks of his ongoing ministry of intercession on behalf of his people. But it is also a reminder of the mission of the church. For his ascension was a moment of commissioning: his followers would be his witnesses to the ends of the earth.
- For that to happen, they would need the power of the Holy Spirit. It is his coming that is recalled at Pentecost (Whitsun as the British call it).
Among the various implications of these events, mission is at the core. The risen Jesus sends his disciples into the world and he later sends his Holy Spirit to empower them for that task.
If you live in Britain, you won’t get the day off to think about these things. But make sure you do, anyway!