Rev Janet's Ascensiontide sermon
SUNDAY after ASCENSION DAY May 8th 2016 St Thomas’ Church, Rev Janet Bromley
Throughout my ministry there have been many attempts by different people to persuade me to climb to the tops of church towers and when the new roof was going on St James in Dursley to climb the scaffolding – as yet they have all been unsuccessful – (this is not a challenge for you all) though I am assured that there are on clear days, magnificent views are to be had over English and Welsh countryside and towns.
Last Thursday was Ascension Day – a time when we think about heights – Jesus goes to Bethany on the Mount of Olives and it is from the top that he ascends to his Father in heaven. That is why in some places it is customary to climb a local mountain on Ascension Day – perhaps this calls for a Monmouth Parishes pilgrimage to the top of the Kymin each year, where we could celebrate this great festival with an open air Eucharist.
Mountain tops are of course good vantage points – and just as the higher up we are the better the visual view: Ascension Day gives us a great spiritual and liturgical viewpoint.
It is from Ascension Day that we can look back and contemplate the events of the last forty days – and even further to the forty days before that. Forty days of Easter and the forty days of Lent that went before. Eighty days in all. Now some there are some people who will have read a book and others who will have seen a film that tells us that there are those who can go around the world in that time – Around the world in eighty days – but WE have been around the Word for eighty days though that has not necessitated huge amounts of travelling – and not only have we been around the Word but it is the Word that has sustained us.
Starting right back at temptation in the wilderness, we prepared ourselves for the self denial of Lent, some followed the Stations of the Cross each week in lent, others reflected on the people of the passion.. then we sailed past Mothering Sunday duly refreshed and on into Passiontide. Arriving in Holy Week some of us had our feet washed or shared an Agape meal – some marched through the streets of Monmouth on Good Friday– lit the bonfire and brought the Easter Light into church and arrived full of joyful celebration – if a little exhausted on Easter Day – to share the Good News of the Resurrection — since then we have been celebrating the Easter season for forty days – which brings us back to the Ascension ..
Our Bibles tell us that Jesus was to be encountered in physical form for forty days after the resurrection and there are numerous accounts of his being so.
Then having been seen among us – he departed
This is, of course rather similar to what happens to all of us – we are seen among us for a little while – and then we depart – such is the number of our days. And I suppose that the Ascension is the nearest thing to a funeral that Jesus had – his burial in the cave of Joseph of Arimathea was very hurried and in dire circumstances – and certainly not all the disciples had been there – for they had scattered – so maybe there was a need for the disciples to see Jesus ascend to heaven………
For they needed hope just as today our world needs hope….and the hope they and we need is rooted in faith and in a real experience of the transcendent. Jesus went back to his Father – but not before he had experienced in his own life the joy and sorrow, the anguish and despair that so many people experience. Jesus chose to go to the cross, but the Gospel story did not end there – God raised Jesus from the dead – and our story does not end there — it is His resurrection and His Ascension that gives us hope that there is eternal life for us too.
Believing in life after death is not easy – our hope is not an easy hope; and neither should it be, because death is of enormous significance – although we shy away form exploring that significance — for we would rather cling to life and put the inevitability of death firmly in the back of our minds.
As we journey through life – surrounded by the Word, we should remember that what God has promised – he will fulfil – but keeping the balance between fear and over confidence – between hope and despair is a difficult thing to do and we learn day by day that the answer is to be found in trust and obedience – submitting hearts and minds to God’s providence or as we say in our baptism vows – by turning to Christ as Saviour and submitting to Christ as Lord.
But there is more – Ascensiontide readings make it clear that we are to be witnesses of the Good News of Jesus Christ – and this means that we must live our lives according to his example and his word. Christ’s message is one of peace, reconciliation and justice – and we cannot turn our thoughts away from Syria, Afghanistan, – from the refugee camps and would be migrants around the world, from continuing unjust regimes in Africa nor indeed from Israel and Palestine – for this is the land where Jesus was born and lived and died – a place desperately in need of peace and reconciliation – and on that peace may well depend the peace of the world. So we must continue to pray for that peace and for the peacemakers, that their voices may be heard, for without their leadership peace will not be possible.
We cannot turn away from the desperate plight of those trying to get their lives back to a semblance of normality after earthquake, fire or collapse of rubbish dumps on which they live. And closer to home we cannot ignore the huge questions facing our politicians regarding Brexit, the economy, ecology and fairness in our own communities.
Jesus said three things before he departed – stay in Jerusalem – I will send you the gift my Father promised – the gift of the Holy Spirit to be with us always, giving us new life – new hope and new meaning but we are also to be witnesses to the world…….
There is a very old legend – (and I love legends) all legends that persist tend to contain an element of truth– the first time I heard this story was in 1989 at a week-end in Southampton and Desmond Tutu told it to a crowd of thousands of young people: It concerns the return of the Lord Jesus Christ to heaven after his Ascension. The Angel Gabriel met him at the gates of heaven and said
“Lord this is a great salvation you have wrought”
But Jesus only answered “Yes”
“What plans have you made for carrying on the work? How are all to know what you have done?”
“I left Peter, who denied me, James and John who fought to sit on my left and my right, Mary a great sinner who loved much, then there is Martha and Thomas who continually doubted the truth- I told them to tell their friends, and their friends to tell their friends until the whole world should know.”
“But Lord Jesus, suppose Peter is too busy with his fishing nets, or Martha with her housework, or the friends they tell are so preoccupied with getting on with their own lives that they forget to tell their friends? What then?”
Jesus did not answer immediately – then he said very quietly
“I have not made any other plans. I’m counting on them.”
Today he is counting on us. Amen.