Today many Christians will be marking Ascension Day, recalling Jesus’ ascent into heaven.

The Book of Acts (1:6 – 11) begins with this: “[The disciples] gathered round Him and asked Him, Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them, It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ After He said this, He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid Him from their sight.

They were looking intently up into the sky as He was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. Men of Galilee,’ they said, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven.’”

It would be tempting to try and read our own situation of discontinuity and confusion into the experience of the apostles. Like them, we might say that we are looking back, mourning an absence or loss. Like them, we want to know times and dates. But, like them, we have no idea what’s coming next; like them, all we can do is wait and pray in our upper rooms (Acts 1:14).

But focusing on this confusion would not be telling the whole story – for them or for us. Despite their confusion around the ascension, the disciples were also given the same promise that we have: that Christ is with us to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20). At Pentecost the disciples would be filled with the Spirit, and the Spirit has not departed since their time. In the rest of Acts, we see apostles flogged, imprisoned, shipwrecked and even killed. But at no point do these circumstances take away the presence or the promise of God away from them – and the same is true of us. For Christ is risen and ascended into heaven. 

So, like the apostles, we pray. We pray not for a second Pentecost, but that the first would be more fully known – even in circumstances like ours. It is with that in mind that Thy Kingdom Come, a global prayer movement usually marked by mass public gatherings, has had to change radically due to COVID-19.

Now in its fifth year, the movement began as a call to prayer for evangelisation within the Anglican Communion in the period from Ascension to Pentecost – a time which, as we read in Acts, was characterised by prayer (Acts 1:12 – 14). It now draws thousands of Christians together, across different denominations and traditions, to pray for their friends, family and neighbours to come to know the love of Jesus. 

For the first time this year, Christians are not only encouraged to pray for others to know the love of Christ, but to also practically demonstrate their love and care through action during the 11 days, an initiative called Prayer and care’. As Acts goes on to describe the first Christian community there was not a needy person among them” (Acts 4:34).

The campaign has also developed several new Thy Kingdom Come despite lockdown’ resources to equip people to worship at home. For churches, there is an upper room’ resource – a virtual prayer room where churches can take part in continuous prayer alongside the international prayer organisation 24/7 Prayer. Inspired by the upper room experience in the book of Acts, where the early disciples gathered to pray, this timely resource encourages churches to go deeper in continuous prayer drawing on the richness of this historic tradition.

In a video message to mark the launch, Archbishop Justin Welby said, Let us regain our confidence as we pray between Ascension and Pentecost this year, praying for the coming of the Spirit that all may know that Jesus Christ is risen, that Jesus Christ is Lord, and in His life and love, there is hope and peace, and call and purpose. May God bless you in your times of prayer, may you know His living presence in your home. Amen.”

Churches Together Endland’s Pentecostal Churches president, Pastor Agu Irukwu, commented, At no time in living memory has the church needed to pray as much as it does now, as we grapple with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. I am particularly grateful for the role Thy Kingdom Come’ prayer movement plays in mobilising the church to prayer.”

We pray not for a second Pentecost, but that the first would be more fully known – even in circumstances like ours.