The United Benefice of
St Mary's, Henlow, and St Andrew's, Langford

Saints and Seasons: June 2011

Index: February | March | April | May | June | July | August | September | October | November

Saints and Seasons was compiled in 2011 from notes written by the Revd Sue to introduce some of the heroes and occasions that mark the church year. Saints days are fixed and occur on the same date each year; festivals that relate to Easter, however, move with Easter: the months may or may not therefore correspond to the current year...

THIS MONTH we have a number of moveable feasts: rather than fall on a set date, these feasts — Ascension, Pentecost, Trinity and Corpus Christi — all occur in relation to Easter; and due to the lateness of Easter this year, they all fall in June...

2nd June 2011: Ascension Day

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A talk presented as 'Thought for the Day' on Biggles FM:

Today the church celebrates the Feast of Ascension.

One of the altars at Walsingham is dedicated to the Ascension: there's just a small table and a few candles, but above is a sculpture of clouds, carved in wood. From the middle of these clouds, there are two feet sticking out. As silly as it sounds, that's the ascension: Jesus, forty days after his resurrection, is lifted up and a cloud takes him out of sight.

That is what his followers recorded. They claimed that while they were watching, Jesus was taken up, out of sight. They may even have seen the bottoms of his sandals as he disappeared into the cloud! As weird as it seems, the ascension is a witnessed event, a recorded fact. As they were watching, Jesus was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.

Not even a lowly midwife tells of being present at Jesus' birth, yet we celebrate his birth at Christmas; no one actually witnessed the moment of Jesus' resurrection, yet we celebrate his resurrection at Easter; it was Jesus' ascension that people observed and documented, yet we hardly celebrate it at all.

It was not his birth, nor his resurrection, but Jesus' departure from earth that was seen by witnesses. Why? It's one of those things that's always puzzled me.

There is a story that when Jesus returned to heaven after his ascension, the Archangel Gabriel was surprised to see him back so soon. Thirty three years is not a long time, especially when you think about the importance and the scale of the task Jesus had been given to do: thirty three years is not long to tell everyone about how much God loves them and wants them to love him in return.

Anyway… in heaven… the story goes…

"Back so soon?" Gabriel said to Jesus.
"Well, I would have stayed longer but they crucified me," Jesus replied.
"Oh, so they crucified you," said Gabriel. "That means you failed."
"Not necessarily," said Jesus. "You see, I called together a little group of disciples. They will carry on my work."
"And what if they should fail?" asked Gabriel.
"I've no other plans," Jesus answered.

Perhaps the disciples needed to see Jesus' departure from earth, his ascension, before they would continue his work. Otherwise, if they were anything like me, they'd spend all their time looking for Jesus in the hope that they could just tag along whilst Jesus did the work of telling everyone about God's love.

The theological reason for Jesus' departure is that as a human being he could only be in one place at one time. When Jesus returned to heaven, he was able to send the Holy Spirit to be with every person simultaneously. But it is still up to Jesus' followers today to tell people about God's love. And, to a certain extent, his plan worked: two thousand years after Jesus walked on this earth there are still people talking about God's love.

12th June 2011: Pentecost

The following introduction to Pentecost is taken from Common Worship: Times and Seasons:

Pentecost (from the Greek pentekoste, ‘fiftieth’ of fifty days of celebration) has its roots in the Jewish Feast of Weeks, which was completed on the fiftieth day after Passover. On the fiftieth day of Easter, God sends his Holy Spirit to empower the Church to perform the mission which the risen Christ has entrusted to it; and he inaugurates the messianic community of perfect communication. Pentecost celebrates both the Holy Spirit and the Christian Church. It was originally the crown and completion of the Easter season; only later, in the medieval West, did it become a new festival season of its own.

After the Easter Vigil, the time of Pentecost was a preferred occasion for baptism in early Christian centuries, and the services of Pentecost also reflect this baptismal theme. Christ’s disciples are born again of water and the spirit. There is some evidence that the ascension was first celebrated on the fiftieth day of Easter, but it was soon moved to the fortieth day in faithfulness to Luke’s chronology. Ascension and Pentecost are closely linked. The risen Lord is no longer present to the Church in the body of his flesh; the Church is now to be the new body of Christ, filled with his life through the gift of the Spirit.

19th June 2011: Trinity Sunday

In some ways Trinity Sunday can seem like saying ‘goodbye’ to all the fun of celebrating the seasons of Christmas and Easter with their periods of preparation in Advent and Lent and the times of reflection and further celebration in Epiphany and Candlemas, and Ascension and Pentecost. All that lies ahead is the long green season called ‘ordinary time’.

The doctrine of the Trinity has inspired lengthy tomes from great theologians because it is nowhere explicitly stated in the Bible although it is constantly present. To speak of God as Father, Son and Spirit is to insist that God is one, that he is shown in Jesus his Son and lives now in the power of the Spirit. Each word Father, Son and Spirit is essentially relational. It took four centuries for Christians to work this out. But the overall consensus is that the Christian understanding of God as Trinity was grounded in prayer, and that prayer to the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit was to be the foundation upon which all worship should be based: In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Come, eat, drink

23rd June 2011: Corpus Christi

This commemoration of and thanksgiving for the Eucharist is observed on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday: in 2011 it falls on 23rd June. The natural day in the Christian calendar for this commemoration would be Maundy Thursday, the day on which the Eucharist was instituted; but the memory of the Passion on that day made a separate day desirable and so the Thursday after Trinity Sunday was chosen as the first free Thursday after Eastertide. In the Catholic Church this is one of the Holy Days of Obligation. This feast was established in the thirteenth century, largely due to the advocacy of Juliana, a devout nun of Liège (d.1258). It became universal in the West in the fourteenth century. The services of the day have traditionally been attributed to St Thomas Aquinas. In some countries there are outdoor processions with the Blessed Sacrament (a consecrated wafer).

Except where otherwise indicated, notes based on material in Exciting Holiness: Collects and Readings, Brother Tristram SSF, and Following in their Steps, Eleanor and Rachel Sayers. Illustrations from Signs, Symbols & Saints: Images from Turvey Abbey, CD Rom, © McCrimmons Publishing, used under license.

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