In this seventh week of Easter we remember the brief time between Christ’s Ascension to the Father and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Nestled between two major feast days, this week often passes without notice. But since most of our Christian lives are spent trying to follow Jesus to the best of our ability, trusting in his help, but without the benefit of extraordinary manifestations of the Holy Spirit, it is worth taking a closer look at how the Apostles lived in this period of time.
Over the past seven weeks we have celebrated Holy Week, Good Friday, and Christ’s Resurrection at Easter. After the agony of the cross and the silence of Holy Saturday, we recounted the surprise and wonder of the empty tomb and the joy of encountering the Risen Christ! After Peter’s threefold denial of Jesus, he is invited to make a threefold profession of love and is reconciled. The Apostles are transformed from hiding in fear to rejoicing as they speak with, eat with, and touch their Risen Lord. However, Jesus mysteriously tells them that forty days after his sudden return he will depart from them once again, this time to return to the Father. This must have been hard news for them to accept. Jesus consoles them by telling them, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you” (John 14:16). He also entrusts to them the Church’s mission to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that [Jesus] commanded” (Matt. 28:19-20).
In a sense, this seems to describe the position in which we often find ourselves in our day-to-day lives. Perhaps we have walked with Jesus in faith for some time. We have suffered with him and have also rejoiced at his victory over death and promise of eternal life. Maybe we have been far away and were recently reconciled to God. We know that Jesus has called us to live a new life—to love, to forgive, to be merciful—and has given us the mission to share the Gospel with the world. He has also promised to help us and to give us guidance through the Holy Spirit. However, we have not seen tongues of fire resting upon our heads and perhaps we have not yet felt the promptings of the Holy Spirit moving us in the direction we should go. How are we to live?
Before Christ’s Ascension Jesus gave the Apostles the Great Commission and the promise of the Holy Spirit, but before Pentecost they were not yet working miracles or supernaturally gifted with the ability to speak to all people in a language they could understand by the power of the Holy Spirit. The single chapter in Scripture that describes this time between the Ascension and Pentecost (Acts 1:12-26) recounts that the Apostles returned to Jerusalem, dedicated themselves to prayer, and appointed Matthias to replace Judas.
From this we can learn three important things. Firstly, the Apostles returned to Jerusalem and continued to live the Gospel to the best of their ability within their state in life. There are plenty of opportunities to be sanctified and to give glory to God in being faithful to one’s daily duties. Secondly, they dedicated themselves to prayer. They spoke to God, drew near to him, and opened themselves to him, waiting and listening for his direction. Thirdly, they took prudent action. The Apostles thought it made good sense to appoint another Apostle to replace Judas. They looked to Scripture and they acted in faith, trusting that God would guide them.
In this way the Apostles were faithful in their daily lives, trusting in him and acting in accordance with the reason God gave them, opening themselves to whatever God may call them to do. Indeed, it is from this position of faithful obedience and openness in prayer that the Apostles received the Holy Spirit poured forth on the day of Pentecost. They were ready to receive and to act upon the promptings and extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit. And that day the Apostles spoke in tongues, and three thousand heard the preaching of the Apostles and were baptized into the Church.
In a similar way, we are called to be faithful in our daily lives, to exercise the reason that God has given us in making prudent decisions, to act in faith and trust as children of God, and to pray and to be open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. The Gifts of the Holy Spirit allow us, like the Apostles, to be ready to respond to the Spirit’s promptings. But during the times that we are not aware of such promptings we are not left merely to sit around and wait for something extraordinary to happen. Like the Apostles, whose faithfulness we remember during this week, we can live our day-to-day lives in a spirit of faith, assured of the assistance of God’s grace, trusting that the Holy Spirit will give us the promptings necessary to guide us along the path of salvation and, when God wills to use us in extraordinary ways, to give us extraordinary gifts as he gave the Apostles on Pentecost.