Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Ascension - Sunday evensong sermon

Ascension Thursday

I have had over the years to compose the occasional farewell speeches including the one to my last parish, so I have had a recent taste of the challenges of valedictory remarks; the ones that are the more difficult are when you leaving a team that you have built myself which is what Jesus had to do. To the disciples way of thinking He was leaving too soon, everyone on the team had been chosen by Jesus and  even if he thought they were strong enough the road ahead was steep and he wanted to leave them with helpful advice. This is a tricky problem.

The disciples had come together having seen Jesus several times in the forty days since his resurrection and now they were impatient, they want to know exactly what will happen next and when it will happen. Jesus quickly dismisses their all too human concerns about when the kingdom will come and instead sets out both a mission and the means by which it is to be accomplished. Jesus had previously promised that the Holy Spirit would come “the gift” from the Father but now he tells them why.

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you and you will be my witness in Jerusalem, in Judea , in Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” These are the same men remember who will shelter in the upper room for fear of their lives worried about the authorities yet they have been given the task of establishing the church that is to spread the Gospel to all the world.

The courage and power that they will have to do this is to be given to them from God the Father and will be the same that propelled Jesus - imagine that for a moment - the power of the Holy Spirit is the same , the same Spirit that was in Jesus, that drove and shaped his ministry,  will be given to the church to fulfil its missionary purpose.

“After he said this he was taken up”. This immediate ascension amplifies and confirms that the Spirit is the same, for it is a necessary pre-cursor that Jesus be welcomed into heaven before the Spirit can be sent. Luke writing this first chapter of the book of Acts takes descriptive care to be sure we engage and understand this moment.

In my many travels through airports I have seen many farewells at the departure gate. Some I agree are perfunctory but the really meaningful ones are when the person saying goodbye, man or woman, boy or girl, lingers long after the passenger has gone through; they stand on tip-toe or crane their necks from  side to side hoping to catch an extra glimpse through the crowd or on a walkway and then when all chances of another sighting, a final wave or an extra blown kiss have passed they stay looking at the space, the doorway perhaps, simply remembering.

Such are the disciples, looking intently up into the sky as a cloud hid him from their sight. The picture strikes us as completely true, exactly what we expect when someone we love leaves us his farewell speech ringing in our ears.

And from now on a page is turned, the disciples have their instructions. They must wait in Jerusalem before being empowered to launch the work they have been given and to start the greatest missionary journey of all time. With Paul, who at this point they do not know at all, they will take the story on a journey from the shores of Galilee to the centre of the then known world to Rome itself. A journey that continues today with the church, and with each one of us a journey propelled by the risen and living Christ.

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