Church of England Diocese of Bath & Wells Easton-in-Gordano

Ascension Day

20 May 2020, midnight
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From_the_Vicar Easter

Luke 24:44-end Acts 1:1-11

Ascension Day

There seems to be a phenomenon in today’s film industry that’s almost become the norm. Where once we’d have stories that had a clear beginning and ending, there’s now more often than not sequels and even prequels. ‘Once upon a time’ and ‘for ever after’, now has a ‘before it all began’ and ‘what happened next after for ever’. Confused? Then you’re in good company; we all are.

Although I already knew what the words ‘sequel’ and ‘prequel’ meant in their context, I wondered whether there would be a root word, that ‘sequel’ in particular was derived from. I found it very easily in the online dictionary: ‘sequela’. And I was not even surprised to read that it was a medical term, for: an abnormal condition resulting from a previous disease. Hmm. Now that’s interesting in these difficult times what with Covid-19… And I intend to leave that for now.

But the whole sequel and prequel idea for today’s movies etcetera, actually turns out to be somewhat ‘borrowed’. Because it’s just what we have in the readings for Ascension Day, and they date a considerable time back.

In the church we tend to read the Gospel readings last – any other reading usually comes first, whether it’s from the Old or New Testament. And the reading from Acts 1, of course, comes after the Gospel in the chronological term. Actually, there is a bit of an overlap. You could almost insert some of the Acts reading into the Gospel reading, in order to get the complete picture.

What I would like to focus on for today is what Jesus says in Luke 24:

‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you – that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’

Jesus had to take the disciples back in order to take them forward. The prequel had to be introduced in order to allow the sequel. Does that make sense? I hope so.

Because it wasn’t an easy time for the disciples. First, their high hopes were dashed by Jesus’ death on the cross. Then they were raised again by Jesus’ rising from the dead. But he wasn’t going to stay; and yet he was going to send someone else to help them. Their confusion was quite legitimate, I think. How could they appreciate the future if they didn’t even understand the present? Well, Jesus took them into the past, in order to help them look ahead with confidence.

We haven’t got the exact words of Jesus, when he explained the words of Moses and the prophets and the psalms about himself, but we have got those words themselves in the Bible. And that’s a good place to start.

I heard some words the other day, by a Dr David Jeremiah. He said that although he has a prophet’s name, he is not a prophet and he can’t tell what God is doing during this time of sheltering during the pandemic. But he can tell what God has done in the past: And what he said next was a whistle stop tour through the Bible, about what God had done:

God sheltered Noah and his family in the ark for one year, and brought them out into a new world. God sheltered Jacob in the home of his uncle for 20 years until he emersed with wealth and a new identity. He sheltered Joseph from the age of 17 to 30, and his slavery became a school of learning for greatness. He sheltered Moses for 40 years in the desert; he sheltered Naomi in Moab until she and her daughter-in-law returned to Bethlehem and one of the greatest love stories. There was Jonah in the whale for 3 days and 3 nights; David for 15 years after his anointing. Daniel was sheltered for 70 years and he wrote the outline of what God was going to do in the future of Israel. There was Esther in the palace of a Persian king, through which the Jews were saved from genocide. Paul was in prison and wrote letters of encouragement; John was in exile on the island of Patmos and gave us Revelation.

Lastly and most importantly, Jesus was sheltered in a tomb and he rose again on the third day, to offer us life and a future.

No, says, Dr Jeremiah, I don’t know all the details of what God is going to do, but I know what he has done and that’s why I put my trust in him.

Ascension Day 2020. What is it saying? It’s telling us to keep looking to God, to trust him, and to praise him, as the disciples did when they had seen Jesus being taken up into heaven. For his sequel to our story is embedded in his love and it will not fail. Amen.

Sequel: a literary work, movie, etc., that is complete in itself but continues the narrative of a preceding work.

Prequel: a literary, dramatic, or filmic work that prefigures a later work, as by portraying the same characters at a younger age.