Saturday, May 15, 2021

Wait and see - a sermon for Ascension Day at Coventry Cathedral (with grateful thanks for the kick-start from Charlotte Cheshire)

This week in and around the Cathedral, I’ve been hugely conscious that all sorts of projects that had been months, or years in the planning, were coming to fruition.

The work is nearly accomplished in St Michael’s AvenueThe long-anticipated interpretation materials are in place, ready for our first visitors when we re-open on Monday. Even the new shop fittings are here being assembled

While there’s still a little while before the Pavilion will be finished and ready to receive guests, at least some works are all but complete, and we can begin to have a sense of how things may be once all is accomplished – for the moment, til the next wave of good ideas breaks! It all feels very hopeful and purposeful and I’m so relieved – because while I love change, I’m just not great at waiting.

This is perhaps yet another reason why it’s good that I wasn’t there with the disciples on that mountain in Galilee. I think I might have made a scene.

I was in school earlier in the week, looking at some of the RE that the KS1 children had been doing. It included plotting the disciples’ emotions from Good Friday to Pentecost as a graph…and as you might imagine, most of the lines looked like a roller coaster viewed side on. The downward plunge of Good Friday, the elated rise on Easter day, followed by a period of steady happiness for those 40 days when Jesus might turn up at any moment – then the sickening drop as that rag taggle community realised that Jesus was going again – without giving any clue as to when he’d be back.

What were they to make of that – and of his instruction to wait…?

To wait for something dramatic – without knowing what it might be.

So very hard for them. Yet more change, loss and uncertainty

Jesus has been with them, in all the wonder of his risen body.

He has gathered them and taken them on a country walk, blessed them – and that’s it.

He has gone.

These verses about the ascension are so short, just a tiny section of the gospels yet here in those brief words is a moment when the disciples teeter on the edge of transformation.

With no Jesus present to teach them, they turn from disciples, pupils, to apostles, those who are sent, just like that…though of course we get a better view of their transformation than they did themselves

To start with all they know is that they’ve been sent home. Home to wait.

You can imagine the conversation on the road.

Why can’t we be clothed with power from on high today?

Why didn’t Jesus do it before he left?

In fact, why has Jesus gone?

Where has he gone?

There are far more questions than answers.

But in the meantime, all they can do is hurry up and wait

They feel his loss deeply.

This is not a change that they would have chosen. Whatever small glimmer of hope there might be at the back of their minds, this feels very much like another bereavement.

Change, loss, waiting.

So much part of the fabric of our pandemic experience.

And in truth, everything has changed.

We won’t, we can’t, go back to how we were before. Whatever course our public life takes in the months ahead, I can’t imagine that any of us will take things as calmly for granted as I know I used to do. Even if I don’t articulate it, I know there will be an unspoken “God willing” incorporated into any and every plan. I’m different. We’re different.

So now we are waiting, to with no certainty about the outcome

We are gradually emerging from the long winter of lockdown, frustration and fear - into what? We hope for a slow and steady recovery as our economy, business, jobs and even church, pick up steam?

Or will the waiting bring more pain as organisations that have limped along for ages finally recognise that they can’t continue and businesses, organisations and even churches close down?

Will they be missed? What will their absence mean?

We wait and we pray but we do not yet know.

It’s striking how often a liminal, in between place like this is the place of growth. There are so many examples in Scripture. – though we can be tempted to skip from high point to high point, fast forwarding through the long road between.

The Exodus for example: Let my people go! Plagues, Red Sea, columns of fire, ten commandments, promised land – ta da! That process took forty years and there was an awful lot of walking, sand, walking, sand, camping, sand and more walking in between those amazing moments as God’s people learned what it meant for them to bear that title. Or another wilderness experience, as Jesus grew in understanding of his own ministry, away from it all, in an in between place. Or what about the Bible itself – Old Testament, New Testament – in between just two pages in the book we know today ,was a gap of four hundred years of silence, of waiting, of not knowing what would happen next…whether and how God might speak, and more opportunities for learning and for growth.

So what of us?

It’s quite a long time since Jesus left his friends on that Galilean mountainside. Events haven’t turned out exactly as they might have expected. No matter how often they lifted their eyes to heaven, there has been no sign of Jesus returning as they saw him go. And we’re still waiting – and we still don’t know what God is up to…but do you know, that’s actually quite OK.

If I’ve learned nothing else, I think I may finally have grasped that ours is a God of surprises, who continues to demonstrate that the end is never the end, that there are always new and wider perspectives, spaces in which we can be changed and grow.

You see, Ascension Day ultimately reminds us that God’s timing is not ours, that we cannot control the path to our future, nor poke and prod it to reveal itself to suit our impatient longing.

So we wait and we pray, for our loved ones, our communities and ourselves. Over this next ten days we are always encouraged to pray, with Christians across the world “Thy Kingdom Come” and ask the Holy Spirit will fall afresh on our communities, our churches and our lives.

Let’s do that together – for who knows what sort of flame may be lit when God’s people watch, wait and pray.

Perhaps, it might even take us, the family of Coventry Cathedral, on a whole new journey that we never expected.

Remember, by no means all change is loss.

How do we need to grow?

What might the Spirit have in store for us?

We’ll have to wait and see. Amen.

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