At this time, we celebrate two great and ancient Christian feasts: the Ascension of Jesus into Heaven and Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles, Mary and other disciples in Jerusalem.
The Ascension, 40 days after Jesus rose from the dead, and Pentecost which comes 10 days later, are described in the early chapters of St Luke's Acts of the Apostles which is the sequel to his gospel.
Internal evidence in Acts suggests that it was written before Nero's persecution of the Christians in Rome in 64AD, barely 30 years after Jesus' crucifixion. At this time, many of the eyewitnesses to Jesus' life and death, and many who had seen him after his Resurrection, were still alive, and Luke's account is their testimony to these extraordinary events.
Before he died, Jesus told his apostles that he would send the Holy Spirit to sanctify and guide his Church. After his Resurrection but before his Ascension, he appeared to them, and gave them the command to take his teachings to the ends of the earth, and promised to be with them, to the end of time.
At Pentecost, he fulfilled his promise to send the Holy Spirit who appeared as "tongues of fire".
The apostles were filled with missionary zeal which brought thousands of Jews in Jerusalem into the infant Church, arousing the fierce hostility of the Temple faction and the earliest persecution of the apostles and the Church. Saul of Tarsus, who later took the name Paul, was one of the most ferocious.
Saul's miraculous conversion on the road to Damascus, where he had intended to arrest the early Christians, is particularly significant because of the words which Jesus spoke to him on the road: "Why are you persecuting me?" And after Saul asked, in amazement, "Who are you, Lord?", he heard the words, "I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting."
Today, we are the beneficiaries of 2,000 years of faithful Christian witness, and in our turn, must hand on the deposit of faith to others, particularly by the example of our lives.
Peter Westmore is the publisher of AD2000.