Thursday, May 13, 2010

Homily for the Ascension

Rifling hopefully through files on my computer last night I found this lurking under the title "Thoughts towards a sermon for Ascension..."

No date, so I assume it was never preached - but as today is stuffed with meetings and travelling as well as 2 Eucharists and a school service, it's appearance was a real gift, protecting me from and all-nighter that really didn't look like a good idea.

Ascension is tricky, isn't it. All those medieval feet...But fantastic music!

Nobody likes goodbyes…

That’s something I acknowledge whenever I stand with mourners at a funeral.

Goodbyes hurt, even when you understand exactly what is going on.

How much more so for the disciples who have had the roller coaster experience of losing Jesus, in his death on the cross, finding him again as he walked beside them in his resurrection life, and then…..oh no…..losing him once more with no date set for his return to them.

They had his promise, true enough…but whatever they may have hoped, there was no certainty that God’s timing would match their lifetimes

So this feast is a strange celebration.

We celebrate the loss of Jesus from the Earth – the end of his earthly bodily ministry.

BUT – if we read the Gospel for this evening again we don’t actually get the feeling that the disciples were particularly glum! In fact the reading we had from Luke’s Gospel, chapter 24 ends with these verses (V 51-53) “While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple blessing God.”

That sounds OK, actually.

Light years away from a family returning home to deal with a newly empty place at the table.

They returned to Jerusalem WITH GREAT JOY.

What had happened?

It seems that, as they obeyed the angels and turned their gaze back from the clouds to engage with the world once more, something shifted inside them.

They were now people of purpose.

They had been disciples, - students learning from the Master.

Now they were apostles – people sent by him, people who knew their calling, their God given task in the world and trusted that God would indeed equip them to fulfil it.

Before being taken to be with God (however that was accomplished) Jesus charged the Apostles to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth.

Witnesses – those who had seen and who were to proclaim the good news that Jesus himself had proclaimed, those who were to live and act as Jesus had, those who were to be Christ-like in the world.

Ascension day is, if you like, the moment when the baton passes from Jesus to the twelve.

And because they were in no way up to the task, Jesus made them another promise

the promise of ‘power from on high’ – the gift of God’s Holy Spirit, the comforter, the advocate, the helper. The Spirit was to be poured out in a new way, to give authority and power to their message and equip them for all they were to do.

That is why they weren’t torn by this parting – Jesus was leaving, but he was staying.

The Spirit would bring that sense of Christ into every moment – just as he had said it would.

The last thing that Jesus did before he ascended was to bless that little group huddled on the hillside.

He blessed them, not to remain there but to go and do his work in the world

That was their mission.

That is our mission.

We are to get on with letting the world know who Jesus is, what God has done in Him, in the amazing power of the Holy Spirit.

The baton has passed to us

.If we are open to the life of God, open to his Spirit, then we too can know the fullness of what Jesus promised, and we can have the assurance that one day we will see God face to face.

In the meantime, we have to trust, to rely on faith, to be willing to do what God would have us do.

It means, sometimes, waiting on God, as the Apostles waited for the coming of the Spirit.

It means being open to hear God’s voice.

It means being willing to move, perhaps to change.

Just as the disciples were not allowed to remain gazing up to heaven, or to erect a shrine at the spot where they last saw Jesus, so we must not allow ourselves to be mesmerised by past experiences of God so that we forget to expect God’s presence ahead of us as well..

The apostles had to re-engage with the world, to go onwards, trusting Christ’s promise that they would not travel without help.

They had to take risks of faith, and so do we.

And, as they dared, they found their faith had the surest of foundations.

Jesus was with them. Jesus is with us.

Today it is time for us to take responsibility for the mission of the church.

Today it is time to stop looking backwards, longing for reconnection with the past.

Today we can trust the promise that if we walk in faith we will receive all that we need to enable our mission in God’s name.


Freda said...

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on Ascension - always a tricky festival for presbyterians, as we don't like to think of Jesus as going away. Love the music - is it available on CD anywhere?

Naomi J. said...

Thank you! Fantastic thoughts on what is indeed a tricky one in the Church calendar. I never know what to make of Ascension, for so many reasons. Thanks for some useful and thoughtful reflections.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, I've been reading many homilies on Ascension over the last few days, and yours speaks to the situation my church faces. Wonderful writing.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your words. They are of great use. The disciples were filled with joy. They had seen a glimpse of glory and knew they were not alone until they would see Jesus again. Lord let our hearts burn within us as we tell others about you.