Ascension 2017


Ascension 25th May 2017.  Acts 1.1-11, Luke 24.44-53.

This past week has seen yet another tragedy. It would be an amiss of me not to mention the terrorist bombing in Manchester last Monday and the lives lost in such a senseless act of violence. What are we to make of these horrific events? How are we to respond? On this day that marks the ascension of Christ, I think we can at least begin to understand our place and purpose here, right now.

The ascension of Christ means more than just Jesus returning to His Father. More than him being with God. There is a hymn that begins to look deeper into this meaning as it contains the lines Thou hast raised our human nature, in the clouds at God’s right hand. The hymn writer is celebrating the extraordinary fact that our humanity in all its variety, in all its vulnerability, has been taken by Jesus into the heart of the divine life. ‘Man with God is on the throne,’ that hymn continues on.

The transfigured Jesus who spans both realities of Gods world and ours, takes with him all that our humanity has to offer. All its wonder as well as its brokenness, its joys and its sorrows, is still capable of being embraced by God, surrounded by his love and welcomed into His heart. Jesus takes our humanity, yours and mine, with all our complex personalities and feelings right into the centre of God’s being. In return, God gives us His spirit to dwell within our hearts. We are one with God and whether we follow his lead or withdraw ourselves from His love and loving others, God never lets go of us. Not even when we find ourselves spinning downwards into despair, spewing words of pain and protest and rage and violence. And as Rowan Williams once said “Jesus hears all the words we speak and he takes them and in the presence of the God the Father says, ‘This is the humanity I have brought home. It’s not a pretty sight; it’s not edifying and impressive and heroic, it’s just real: real and needy and confused, and here it is (this complicated humanity) brought home to heaven, dropped into the burning heart of God – for healing and for transformation.

Yet this is only one part of our celebration of Christ’s ascension. The second part is the looking forward to the coming of Christ’s advocate, the Holy Spirit. In the gospel of Luke, Jesus shows how the church, we, are intertwined with the Holy Spirit in order to bring Glory to God by preaching the gospel to His creation. First of all, Jesus says ‘this is what is written’. He points to the scriptures for they are the basis of our belief. Everything he has done and has been promised has been written in the Old and new testament. The spirit of God flowed throughout the scriptures and for us, are the basis for our belief. Secondly Jesus says that ‘repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations’. We are commissioned, charged, with the command to proclaim the good news gospel which is God’s offer of a new start and we encourage people to turn towards accepting it. Thirdly, Jesus says to his disciples ‘you are witnesses of these things’. What we believe and what we proclaim must be only those truths which we are authorized to believe and proclaim by the teachings of the twelve in the New Testament. To learn of Jesus and so of his way forward for his church, we look to the apostles witness alongside the witness of the spirit: neither one without the other. Lastly, we are to be clothed with power from on high, meaning the gift of the Holy Spirit is not just given to us individually but to the whole church. For unless the church possesses the promise of the Father, the miracle working of the Holy spirit, the church is nothing. The church, we, are powerless to bring forth God’s plan and purpose for Christ’s people to the whole world without our acceptance of and working with, the Holy Spirit.

When we have doubts in understanding what we are or the role and purpose of the church, these four areas of scripture, proclamation, apostolic authority and the Holy spirit, serve as wonderful reminders. When we are faced with our prevailing culture, with its absence of certainties, its vast diversity of views, theories, opinions, and life-style choices, we can become bewildered. Rowan Williams says that the promise Jesus speaks of in Acts and Luke, of the Father going to descend on the world, is about the way in which the gift of the Holy Spirit of God enables us not only to be a new kind of being but to see human beings afresh and to hear them differently. When the Holy Spirit sweeps over us in the wind and the flame of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit gives us the life of Jesus. It gives us something of Jesus’ capacity to hear what is really being said by human beings. It gives us the courage, not to screen out those bits of the human world that are difficult, unpleasant, not edifying. It opens our eyes and our ears and our hearts to the full range of what being human means.

When we think about Manchester and other terrible events in the world, we need to remember we are the body of Christ, we listen with His ears and see with his eyes. As we are in God and God is in us, in the midst of humanities fragility and suffering, we see and hear what God can do. We remember that Christ has ‘raised our human nature / in the clouds at God’s right hand’, and our compassion is deepened hundred times, our awareness of pain is deepened hundred times, and (please God) by the gift of the Spirit, our hope is deepened a thousand times.

In the midst of the terror event, Jesus came: (borrowed from Archbishop Cranmer blog)

“If anyone needs shelter we are right on the outskirts of central Manchester in Salford, anything I can do to help DM me!!” tweeted science student Karolina Staniecka.

“Anyone in Manchester who needs to wait for their parents or needs somewhere stay or to make phone calls, etc, just DM me. We have tea!” offered the BBC’s Simon Clancy.

“The Holiday Inn nearest to Manchester Arena have taken dozens of kids who have been separated from their parents tonight,” said Samuel Carvalho.

“Taxi drivers in #Manchester offering free journeys to those stranded after the events in #ManchesterArena,” tweeted Bethan Bonsall.

Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ said Jesus.

By God’s grace, we learn that we can do more than just help out here and there, but really take responsibility for not only the running of the church but also as living as disciples as Christs hands and ears in our communities. For we have a Gospel to proclaim, within the power of the Holy Spirit, to a hurting, suffering world.

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