Service of the Word: Ascension Sunday

COLLECT

Let us pray that our risen and ascended Lord will lead us to eternal life:

Silence

Risen Christ, you have raised our human nature to the throne of heaven: help us to seek and serve you, that we may join you at the Father’s side, where you reign with the Spirit in glory, now and for ever.  Amen.

READING

Luke 24: 44 – 53

Jesus said to the disciples, ‘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.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the  Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’ Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. 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.

REFLECTION

In my last congregation, in Greenock, I had a rather witty parishioner who always referred to Ascension Day as The Feast of the Radical Departure! When I first heard his new name for this very special festival I thought it bordered on the blasphemous, but the longer I lived with it the more I came to see and appreciate exactly what he meant by it!  Our Lord Jesus was always making radical departures.  Not just on the Day of his Ascension into heaven, but every single day of his life and active ministry

Just think of some of the storylines from the New Testament and you’ll see for yourselves that Jesus was forever making deviations from the norm. 

  • Workers who had barely rolled up their sleeves getting treated on a par with folk who had sweated at it all day.
  • A wayward son’s welcome-home party which his dutiful, stay-at-home brother had to be cajoled into attending.
  • A Samaritan who was good?  For heaven’s sake!

And his actions backed up his words…

  • Touching the untouchables and letting himself be touched by them.
  • Eating and drinking with people that the respectable ones wouldn’t be seen dead with and yet refusing to let Lazarus be seen dead with him!

Strange stories, remarkable actions. And novel ideas too. Ideas like:

  • Humility as the measure of greatness
  • Service as the mark of lordship and leadership
  • Children leap-frogging adults
  • Prostitutes pipping priests to the heavenly post

It was all such a radical departure.  Radical, because it went to the very root of his understanding of God.  God was the owner of the funny farm, who paid all his workers the same wage. God was the Father who made a spectacle of himself running with his robe up round his hurdies to throw his arms round his runaway son who’d come crawling back.  The indiscrimate love, the elevation of the little, the last and the least. It was all God’s. And it was such a radical departure.  Metaphorically speaking! 

So we shouldn’t really be surprised that, when the time came for Jesus to leave, he chose to make his departure a radical one too. In Mark’s Gospel we are told “he was taken up”.  In Matthew’s Gospel we are told “he was lifted up”.  In Luke’s Gospel we are told that “he withdrew from them”.  Nothing dramatic. No upward thrust.  More Tommy Cooper than Neil Armstrong.  He went “just like that”! 

Whether he went up like a rocket or slipped quietly behind a curtain is neither here nor there. What is important is what Jesus’ departure revealed and disclosed. We are told in the Gospels that it was only when Jesus went that the Spirit would come.  So, his departure not only preceded but somehow facilitated an arrival.  His departure was an absence that enabled a presence.   Archbishop William Temple said of Jesus at the Ascension: “Because He is “in heaven”, He is everywhere on earth; because He is ascended, He is here now.”  

We are fortunate to have generations of theological thinking on this important feast to draw on.   The disciples had no such advantage.  Jesus’ radical departure simply convinced them of his status as Messiah  and reminded them of what they had to do next.  Beginning from Jerusalem they were to go out to the whole world, to be witnesses to it all.  Their task was to get out there and to get on with telling the story of HIS story and the radical departure from the norm that his kingdom was all about.  We who are his followers today are called to do the very same; we are to continue to make radical departures in his name and to know that, in the radical difference we make, he is with us always, even to the end of the age.

INTERCESSIONS

You are free, Lord, your ascension has set you free…

Free from the constraints of human existence, outside the limitations of time and space, free to be here with us now in our worship and fellowship; for in your freedom you have bound yourself to us with a promise: “Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”

We pray for any who need to feel you close, any who need the assurance of your love, the encouragements of your Spirit.  We pray for those who are persecuted, those who are discriminated against, those who are ridiculed because of their faith or race or colour.  Be with them, Lord.

We pray for those who are imprisoned, or tortured, or exiled because they have struggled for the rights of their people.  Be with them, Lord.

We pray for the destitute, the hungry, those made refugees because of the unkindness of our world.  Be with them, Lord.

We pray for those who have lost everything in the war zones that are Syria, The Holy Land, Afghanistan.  Be with them, Lord.

We pray for those who are filled with guilt, those who are heart-broken, perplexed because a relationship has gone wrong.  Be with them, Lord.

We pray for those who are feeling fed up because they have been laid off or furloughed, those who are in discomfort because they are ill… In our own community we remember Christine, Ian, Richard, Chris, Bill, Lorna, Joyce, Louyse, John, Avril, Helga, Colin, Margaret, Stuart.  Be with them, Lord.

We pray for all who are numbed, all who are angry, all who are desolate because they have been bereaved… especially the families and loved ones of Mavis, Isabelle and Mel, who have died recently and of George, whose year’s mind falls today.  Be with them, Lord.

Be with us all, Lord, in our daily struggles to follow you, in our periods of doubt and despair, in our times of happiness, health and loving.  Be with us all until the time when, in your kingdom of love, our joy will know no end.  In your name, risen, ascended, glorified Lord, we pray.  Amen.

Revd Canon Drew Sheridan