May 20, 2020
Almighty God, your Son Jesus Christ ascended to the throne of heaven that he might rule over all things as Lord. Keep the Church in the unity of the Spirit and in the bond of peace, and bring the whole of Creation to worship at his feet, who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen (Collect for the Ascension of our Lord)
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
It can be easy to lose sight of who we are, without gathering as a church, in a building, in a familiar tradition and celebration. And that is why we are blessed with a holy imagination. For even on a Sunday morning (in these days), ‘just’ listening to a service, we can see, in our mind’s eye the sanctuary, the people who usually surround us and the familiar symbols, sights and sounds of the season.
Now we approach another great season to celebrate in the church, and the Kingdom of God. The Ascension of our Lord ‘happens’ tomorrow in the liturgical calendar, 40 days after the Resurrection – hence always on a Thursday (as if that mattered to God). When I was a boy, the Ascension had far greater observance than it generally receives today. Maybe I remember it with fondness because we always got a half day holiday from school – in order to attend church celebrations (and then endured the stares of others when we turned up ‘late’ for school).
But that is not to detract from the significance of another moment in the post-Easter tableaux and yet another visible reminder of another element of God’s great plan coming to fruition. When Jesus ‘left’, I am tempted to say ‘but he didn’t’; His visible presence was no longer here for those first disciples. However, his greater spiritual presence, to be joined with the Holy Spirit, was from then on made available to all believers in every age to come. God’s plan and provision for us to know Him, today, is profound and heart-warming. Such love.
The Transfiguration (Luke 9:28f) happened part way through Jesus’ earthly ministry. A moment when Jesus was reminded of his heavenly ‘connection’ and encouraged to complete his mission on earth. The Ascension may be seen as the second part, the fulfillment of that moment, when Jesus finally returns, in his Ascension, to his primal glory as now both Son of Man and Son of God. There is now freedom of access for anyone straight to the throne of God. ”There was no other good enough, to pay the price of sin. He only could unlock the gate of heaven, and let us in.”*
I mentioned our holy imagination above. It is something we can cultivate and encourage with the Lord’s help. For those of us who grew up in the age before T.V. ‘steam’ radio was the best home entertainment. I believe it was also a great encouragement to the development of our imagination. Of course, it was sometimes disconcerting to actually see a picture of the person behind the voice on the radio. (that’s nothing like who I ‘see’, or imagined they look like!). I like to think that is (in part) the reason we don’t have pictures of Jesus. (Think about that; you know what he looks like - in your own imagination.)
I realise in this age many people are used to seeing somebody that’s speaking or performing. And I appreciate those, who despite this frustration, have listened into Sunday mornings at St James. (As someone recently pointed out to me, just think of the distractions that surround us when in church). I’d like to think we shall have sensory overload when we finally reconvene on a Sunday morning in church! The Ascension of our Lord is a wonderful reminder for us to use our imagination. We didn’t see Him go, but we know where he is right now, beside us now and always.
May you be blessed in this Ascension-tide and look forward to celebrating the sending of the Holy Spirit once again. And you don’t need to use your imagination to know His presence.
“There are only two kinds of people: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, ‘All right, then, have it your way.’” C.S.Lewis “The Great Divorce”
Children’s Letters to God:
Dear God, I didn’t think that orange went with purple until I saw the sunset you made last night. That was cool. Hilary
Dear God, Maybe Cain and Abel would not kill each other so much if they had their own rooms. It works with my brother. Peter
“I didn’t ask God to help me not to misbehave”, said Alan to his exasperated parents. “I asked him to help you put up with me!”
*Blue Hymnal #545, ‘There is a green hill far away’, Cecil Frances Alexander