Letter from the Vicarage - May 2017
BLESSINGS FROM THE VICARAGE
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
As Easter was quite late this year, this means the church service of Jesus Christ’s Ascension will be celebrated in May (Thursday 25th, 7.30pm in St Mary’s Church). ‘Ascension’ is a Christian celebration that we read about from the New Testament book of the Acts of the Apostles Chapter 1, verses 4 to 11. Sadly, it is not often a festival that is much written about secularly or ecclesiastically, and (more sadly) not even celebrated that much in churches nowadays, which I find completely unfathomable as it is pivotal to both Christ’s continuing story and thus our journey too.
A fair few years ago Ascension Day fell on a Sunday, and as I felt its importance should be more recognised and acknowledged (especially in church), I wanted to offer a more visual and memorable example of what Christ’s ascension could mean in my sermon that day. So I started by acknowledging the Trinity (as usual before speaking), and then popped the cork on a champagne bottle, poured it into a champagne flute and proceeded to drink it with great enjoyment!
Once the congregation had got over the shock that I had done this as part of my sermon, and I had controlled the bubbles which had gone up my nose (!) they could comprehend the basic premise of my talk was that champagne could not be called champagne if it didn’t have bubbles that rose, it would just be wine. Therefore if Jesus Christ did not ascend into heaven then we could neither believe nor understand him as the Son of God, he would just be a hard-working, decent bloke who was a bit of a psychologist or counsellor and was able to heal some pretty difficult conditions, and even resuscitate those who had died. Just as the bubbles clarified that I was indeed drinking champagne, the Ascension of Jesus Christ clarified his status as God incarnate.
Furthermore, without Christ ascending we would not have had the outpouring of the Holy Spirit 50 days after Jesus’ rising from the dead (Pentecost); and without Pentecost the church would not have come into existence. The very fact that the Christian church exists today is testament that something very extraordinary occurred and was experienced and embodied by all those present nearly 2000 years ago (although it is also a miracle in many ways that it does still exist due to all the teething problems, waywardness and human corruption that has infiltrated it and almost annihilated it over the centuries, but that is something to perhaps discuss another time).
The utter joy of being given such energy, such connexion, such love and such confidence in God - the Constancy of All Life – was such a boost to the Disciples, who were utterly transformed and then went about simply sharing God’s love, healing and reconciling in peace and prayerfulness.
There are two prayers which are said at Ascension:
Grant, we pray, almighty God, that as we believe your only begotten Son Our Lord Jesus Christ to have ascended into the heavens, so we in heart and mind may also ascend and with Him continually dwell; who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Risen Christ, you have raised our human nature to the throne of heaven: help us to seek and serve you here now, that we may join you at your Father’s side, where you reign with the Holy Spirit in glory, now and for ever. Amen.
As we ponder prayerfully on the mystery of the Ascension of Jesus Christ and what it might mean to us today, may we understand from these prayers that it is not about God ‘leaving us to it’ (indeed far from it) - it is a prelude to God’s Spirit being totally poured out for us to help us be changed by the experience like the disciples; to be raised up now in this life to help, heal, reconcile and love all God’s creation. It’s not about waiting for an external omnipotent god to sort things out, but for us all to work in partnership with God, in God and through God, to help life evolve into a new testament of being. We need to get away from devolving all responsibility whilst looking vaguely into the skies as if expecting the ‘ancient one to descend’ – shaking our fists when nothing seems to happen even though most people have basically ignored God all their lives and just expect God to do something when they are in trouble.
No, Ascension is about amazing hope – eternal hope – and true hope, that as God was present on earth in Jesus Christ, then we too can be present with God. God is with us and we live in God, and so whether in this life or the next, we are all safe in God’s love because if the God in me meets the God in you, we cannot possibly harm each other. Therefore respect, valuing one another and love and peace grows. Now - couldn’t the world do with a bit (if not a lot) of that?
Happy Ascension everyone!
With love and prayers,