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 it doesn't seem 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, to hallow each second of every day.
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
To the congregations of our Stroud Ministry Team -with all our anxieties and shortcomings, all our lost opportunities and our dreams and visions of a new kind of tomorrow.
WE are the ones charged with building the Kingdom in our community – starting from now.
We probably don't feel adequate...and by most yardsticks we probably aren't.
But God has given us all the gifts that we need in order to BE his Church in this place...We can do more together than we would ever have managed alone...for the whole is most definitely greater than the sum of its parts.
We won't always appreciate or value one another's contributions. Change is hard, and there will be compromise and sacrifice ahead. We may sometimes wish we could just go it alone and there may be times, too, when we would love to go back to that hillside in Galilee......to fix our eyes on the middle distance and strain to catch a glimpse of our ascending Lord....but that's not what we're about!
We have to wrest our gaze from the heavens and focus on the task before us here on earth...the real, challenging task of so living that Stroud – with all its needs and opportunities – begins to grasp just how much it is a community LOVED BY GOD.
There's a great story about how, on the first Ascension Day, Jesus was greeted in heaven by whole squadrons of rejoicing angels....but after the celebrations were over Gabriel took him to one side.
“Lord...” he said
“I know you've won the victory over sin and grief and death.
I know you've done all that is needed to restore creation and bring in the kingdom – but in the meantime, what's your strategy for making it real in the world today”
Jesus pointed down through the clouds at that rag taggle group clustered on the hillside, scratching their heads and rubbing their eyes and generally looking completely bewildered.
“That's my strategy......”
Gabriel peered down...
“and Lord -what's Plan B?”
“There IS no Plan B”
NO PLAN B. We are it! The agents of God's mission in the world.
On Tuesday in this church Archdeacon Jackie gave her charge to the new Wardens of our Deanery...a simple but transformational charge
“Receive the Holy Spirit”.
Tonight I invite you to pray most fervently for that Spirit to come down afresh on us and on our churches...to kindle again the fire of God's love within our hearts and within our communities.
Ascension marks the departure of Christ in human form from our world – but the inauguration of his reign on high. Lets live as signs that his Kingdom has come and celebrate with great joy Christ's eternal victory.