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I was very privileged to be able to serve my curacy in the beautiful market town of Pickering, half way between Malton and Whitby, in the Diocese of York. Pickering’s Parish Church contains some impressive mediaeval wall paintings, which were (as you might expect) whitewashed after the reformation, and then rediscovered in the Victorian period. They are not quite unique, as far as paintings go, but their history is absolutely fascinating, and Pickering Church remains a gem, albeit a hidden one, because of them. This said, the church is not Pickering’s main attraction: the town is more famous for its steam train. Now I am no steam train enthusiast, but many people are, and the North York Moors Railway must welcome thousands upon thousands of visitors a year who enjoy the scenery and ride from Pickering up through Goathland and Grosmont all the way to Whitby.
Even I can appreciate that steam trains are beautiful contraptions. But behind their beauty lies hard work, not least from those who operate the engine by shovelling coal into the fire, which heats the water and produces the steam to get the loco’ moving. Key to all of this is fire. To paraphrase Come Fly With Me: you might have coal, you might have water, you might even have people-power, but if you’ve got no fire, the engine won’t go anywhere! Fire is essential. It gets the machine moving. It gives the engine power. It helps the train to be a train!
Between Ascension Day and Pentecost, the Apostles with the Mother of God were waiting in the upper room. They had said goodbye to Jesus and he had ascended. He had left them all alone, and they knew it. They had been given a mission to go and tell others about the Lord, his death and resurrection, to baptize and to teach. And yet there they sat timorously in a private chamber. But they waited. They waited for ten days in fact. And on the tenth day, the fiftieth after the Lord’s resurrection, they got their gift, as the Holy Spirit whooshed into the room and fire descended upon them. They had been given the gift of the Holy Spirit, and this gift changed them for ever. Immediately, they left the room and began to tell people about Jesus. They spoke in different languages. They who once were fearful, confused, dead, were now confident and alive. Before hand, they knew the message, they knew they had to deliver it, but they had no fire, and so nothing happened. But the fire came, the power was given, and the engine started to burn – the message started to be proclaimed, and the church has never been the same since.
On Ascension Day the church enters into a period of nine days of more intense prayer. In recent years, this period has been adopted by the Archbishops and church leaders, and promoted as a time for praying that God’s kingdom may come through more people coming to know Jesus. As the Apostles found, if we try to do this on our own, we won’t succeed. We might be timorous, we might prefer to shut ourselves away in our own upper rooms, we might not have the confidence to say anything to anyone about our faith. But if we have the power of the Holy Spirit behind us, anything is possible. So over these nine days, in this period from Ascension to Pentecost, why not pray for a fresh outpouring of the Spirit, on yourself, on those whom you love that they may come to know Christ, and in the church at large as she seeks to be effective in her witness to the world? Pray for the power of the Holy Spirit.
Father Chris Johnson is the Vicar of Horbury with Horbury Bridge.
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