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May 2021

The month of May is framed by bank-holidays – May day and Whitsun (the old name for Pentecost). The actual bank-holidays may have become a little disconnected with the historic celebrations in terms of both the dates and traditional customs, secular and religious. This year, dancing around a maypole will be impossible even in those villages that do still have a maypole. With our traditional celebrations of May Day and Whitsun the feast of the Ascension can get a little lost. It is always celebrated on a Thursday so not an ideal day for a bank-holiday, that is unless you live, for example, in France, where it is a public holiday. In France it is not uncommon to take the Friday off also, making for a long weekend. The consequence of this is that Ascension has a much higher profile in France than in Britain.

Ascension Day is important – it is one of the most significant days in the Christian year. It marks the fact that Jesus’ work on earth is completed. He returns to the throne of heaven and the disciples – the church – awaits the gift of the Holy Spirit that will mark the beginning of our work. But that earthly work of Christ framed by a common theme (much as the month of May is framed by bank-holidays). Jesus’ earthly ministry begins with John the Baptist preaching about sin and offering baptism as a sign of repentance… his ministry on earth ends by telling the church that ‘repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations’. Then after blessing the disciples he ascends to heaven. John prepared the way for Jesus, Jesus did his work of atonement, and we have received the task of proclaiming repentance and forgiveness throughout the world.

So, what does that mean? It can be so easy to say sorry without meaning it, or to focus on institutional or structural sin and neglect the personal aspect. The word ‘sin’ means to miss the mark, to fall short in following the way of the cross. If we are to proclaim repentance it must begin with us, seeking daily to follow Christ more closely and walking the way of the cross.

Fr Philip

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