Reflection for Ascension Sunday, 24th May 2020
Today in the Church calendar we come to the first Sunday after Ascension Day, which was on Thursday, and how good it was to see the flag flying at St. Peter’s. Ascension Day is often bypassed in the life of the Church. I remember the surprise I had when I was at Teacher Training College that Ascension Day was a day off!! On your bike and off to the sea for the day.
Why is it so easily overlooked? Maybe because the whole event is something beyond our imaginations. Our minds are blown by the sight of space craft taking off and disappearing into the sky. We question the magician who seemingly makes something or someone float and perhaps we look in envy at the skills of the young who have jet packs attached to their backs and rise from the ground or sea and hover before coming to land.
All logic over our knowledge of the natural is defied, but those early Disciples had already experienced the control that Jesus held over wind and waves, sickness and demons and even more recently for them, over death itself. And so perhaps they and we should not be so surprised that this was the way he chose to leave them.
Many have tried to illustrate this event, our East window in St Peter’s is one of the many and is beautiful, but it is an illustration , not the real moment captured on screen.
It is impossible for us to understand what exactly those early disciples witnessed, except that once more we are shown that Jesus was not subject to the physical restraints that we experience. And when you read through the account from John, the only Gospel writer to be present at this event, he doesn’t even mention it. Even he could not put into words the enormity of what he had seen and heard and felt
Together those early disciples had witnessed so much and finally it seems that their teacher, friend and Lord had left them, just when there seems so much for them to do. Just how was God’s work to be done if Jesus was no longer there to guide them? This was the group who had failed Jesus in his time of greatest need. They had fallen asleep in Gethsemane instead of praying with and for him; they had run away when the Roman soldiers arrived and arrested him; they had hidden themselves away in fear, after his burial. And now they are being told to take the Good News about Jesus back to Jerusalem where they had failed him. But that’s not all. They were to go on, into Judea and even Samaria, a place where they were hated ; and then on even further to the very ends of the earth, and they would have no idea where that was!
What a calling? Where they being set up to fail again almost as a penalty for earlier times? NO! Because what they were being asked to do was linked to a promise, the promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit, who will give them the strength for the tasks set out for them and they will be enabled to do things beyond their expectations and imaginations. I wonder how any of us would feel if we were called to go to the ends of the earth to proclaim the Gospel.
In present times we would be bound by rules and regulations to say “no, !” But somehow even the times of plenty that we do live with might make us still hesitate, forgetting that through the ages, God has worked with unlikely people… remember Moses and Jonah!
Human nature would want to make us safe in the cocoon of our own piece of the world; we would become divided and arguments would begin over what the next action or journey would be.
Those early Disciples gathered together as one body and united in prayer until the Holy Spirit came in Power at Pentecost. No longer were they gazing into the sky for guidance because they received that from the Holy Spirit. The story of Ascension is not just the story of Jesus going up and away, but the reality of Jesus going on and on in the lives, hearts and minds of the believers.
He goes on in our lives, too as we meet to hear his word, to forgive us and encourage us with his blessing. We heard in our Gospel reading from John, not the account of an event, but the assurance of Jesus himself praying for each and everyone of us. He knows that we feel threatened and he opens his arms and hearts for us. He prays that despite troubles and threats of division we remain as one body. His message is clear “Go into all the world, but remember to start where you are, and keep united, keep praying for his Kingdom to come and keep looking for the day when he will return again as he promised”
Ascension IS about the reality of Jesus going on and on, not just up and away.