Thursday, May 25, 2006

God is gone up with a merry noise!

When I started school, I attended an Anglo Catholic Convent, where the liturgical year was taken Extremely Seriously.
I specially remember Ascension Day, in those days still a public holiday, as on that festival instead of attending a service in the convent chapel we were all marched in crocodile to the church that the sisters loved best...some distance across a town that was nothing if not hilly. There, we attended a full Sung Eucharist,- distinctly baffling to the Kindergarten children like me,- and then straggled back to school again. In my memory, it was always the hottest day of the summer, and the miles multiplied, so that by the time we reached school we were totally exhausted - a shame, as the festivities were only just beginning, and the day would go on to feature sticky buns, orange juice in place of the habitual school milk (does anyone else out there remember those 1/3 pint bottles with a straw?) and then, bizarrely, Scottish Country Dancing - which was considered to be suitable entertainment for the under 11s. I knew that this was all supposed to be very exciting,- and I can still remember the taste of those glossy cinnamon buns,- but on the whole, Ascension Day left me cold.

Later, as a chorister, I realised that some of the loveliest music belonged to this Festival - (Phillips' Ascendit Deus, Gibbons' O Clap your hands ...- and that the Ascensiontide hymns had something very important to express about the Lordship of Christ. I relished standing in Great Court to hear the college choir greet the dawn, but by then I was also haunted by images of some of the more ludicrous and literal of medieval wall paintings, showing just the soles of two little pink feet as Jesus vanished into the clouds. It seemed almost impossible that anyone should take this feast seriously.
And yet,- and yet...
So much to reflect on, about our need to let Jesus go, in order to have constant access to him, - about the reign of Christ, transcending time and space....about the exaltation of our humanity (he shares our humanity so that we might share his divinity)...about our calling to look up, to expect his return, and meanwhile to live and work in the light of the Great Commission. Trying to explain the feast to the mums and toddlers at Little Fishes this morning, I ended up hiding the "Jesus candle",- the Paschal flame that has burned since the Easter Vigil,- and then asking the children whether they thought it was still there. When we'd established that it was, and that it's flame still burned brightly, we placed it high in the pulpit, so that it could be seen from anywhere in the church. That was some improvement, but it didn't really go far enough if we really REALLY wanted everyone to see its light. So in the end, we decided that the only answer was to light one candle for each child from the Paschal candle, and so when they went home they could take the light of Christ home with them. They couldn't see the big candle any longer,- but they could each of them share in its light.
It made more sense that vanishing toes and fluffy clouds, at least from my perspective.

Augustine helped, too
"Christ is now exalted above the heavens, but he still suffers on earth all the pain that we, the members of his body, have to bear....While in heaven he is also with us, and we while on earth are with him. He is here with us by his divinity, his power and his love. We cannot be in heaven, as he is on earth, bey divinity, but in him we can be there by love. He did not leave heaven when he came down to us..nor did he withdraw from us when he went up again into heaven....These words are explained by our oneness with Christ, for he is our head and we are his body....Out of compassion for us he descended from heaven, and although he ascended alone, we also ascend, because we are in him by grace....the body as a unity cannot be separated from the head."

6 comments:

Mary said...

Yes,I remember the milk bottles - always lukewarm so you could actually taste the milk (ugh)and with straws pushed through the foil tops, which then had to be collected and washed for dispatch to the latest Blue Peter appeal. At my boarding school (milk in melamine mugs of the appropriate house colour) Ascension Day was a holiday and we went on outings to picnic at local beauty spots, having been to chapel in the morning - making the service something to be got through before the day could really begin.
Your Little Fishes ideas sound wonderful, Kathryn. We had the Deanery eucharist - shockingly, out of 14 parishes only two were represented. Apparently the Ascension isn't celebrated in Lambeth South except by Christ Church and St Thomas's...... It was lovely though, especially the way the liturgy begins to look towards Pentecost as the service proceeds.

Sorry to be so long... daren't begin to post myself until I've got a few things out of the way....

serena said...

Funny you should mention Philips' Ascendit Deus ... we learned it yesterday to do on Sunday. Along with Finzi's "God is Gone Up" which is always a good shout! You're right, Ascension is confusing but has really really good music :)

Anonymous said...

All this about the separation of big and little candles makes me think of you and Lucinda. Although you are separated and can't see each other, your candles are still burning and you are still connected. Also, the lights from your parents' candles still shine brightly in your memory. I wonder if this separation from Lucinda at about the age that you were when you lost your parents is having a profound effect on you. And the Big Candle (Jesus) unites you all. I hope this isn't an unhelpful or unwanted comment, but ever since Lucinda left I have been aware of something very painful in your posts and just wanted to say I am thinking of you in this separation. I will understand if you don't want to publish this comment on your blog and feel a little diffident about posting it anyway as I don't even know you. Perhaps it would be enough just to say 'Hugs!'

Dayzeee

Kathryn said...

Not perturbed by your comment, Dayzee...but a bit bemused. It ought to make sense that I'd find it particularly difficult to be separated from L at this stage, I do agree...but actually, once the departure itself was accomplished (and the reports of floods at Heathrow were in no way an exaggeration) I've found the whole thing far more manageable than I would have anticipated. If she were having a wretched time, I can envisage feeling very different...but as it is, I'm truly not aware of feeling particularly bereft or at a loss. So if there's something you're picking up in my blog posts, I'm not certain it's a big issue for me in reality.
Totally agree re the wonderfulness of feeling united in Christ - one of the unexpected joys of priesthood has been that enhanced sense of the Communion of Saints when I celebrate.
Hugs always welcome...will save it in case I feel myself forlorn!

see-through faith said...

I remember those milk bottles. And the slogan Thatcher / milk snatcher in later years, which made me laugh as the milk was either lukewarm or frozen with the tops pecked off by the birds.

And I remember the orange squash in the same bottles for special occasions / in our school that meant the Christmas party and end of school concert with parents.

I liked being the milk monitor though and giving out the straws!

I went to boarding school and there was no milk, no juice either and therefore no milk monitor. In prep school I was the pencil sharpening monitor for a season though.

thanks for the trip down memory lane.

In Finland yesterday was a holiday (today too for schools /so a nice long weekend for our kids!) and hubby and I married on Ascension day 18 years ago. I think the champagne then was God going up with a merry noise.

Love what you do with your little fishes Kathtryn.

Purechristianithink said...

Growing up Presbyterian in the U.S. Ascension was definitely not a big deal. But let me tell you what-- on the day that, as a 21 year old seminarian, I discovered that The Ascension in german is "Die Himmelfahrt" I made all sorts of merry noises!!