Vicars Thoughts For Ascension Day 2020
Ascension Day comes 40 days after Easter and is yet another milestone in the greatest narrative the world has ever known in the story of Jesus. As Christians, we celebrate Jesus birth at Christmas and then travel with him through forty days and nights in the wilderness during Lent. Palm Sunday is the beginning of Holy Week when we enter into the drama of Jesus arrest and crucifixion. By the end of the week, Jesus has risen from the dead, and we recall his first resurrection appearance on Easter Day in the garden.
In these weeks of Easter, Jesus makes several appearances to the disciples: in the garden to Mary Magdalene; on the road to Emmaus; in the breaking of bread; behind locked doors with his disciples; to doubting Thomas who refuses to believe that Jesus is alive unless he can see him.
In Jesus resurrection from the dead, he fulfils the ancient Jewish scriptures and the early Church is getting ready to be born at Pentecost, 50 days after Easter, when the Holy Spirit comes as the third person of the Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. But first Jesus needs to ascend to that other place, to take his seat at the right hand of the Father that has been specially prepared for him. Luke writing in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, recalls the scene of Jesus being with his disciples, and how a cloud came and took him out of their sight as they were gazing up towards heaven.
One could be forgiven in thinking that this was the end of the story, but as we all know, 10 days later the disciples witnessed something in the wind and fire, that convinced them that the promised Holy Spirit had arrived, and would be their strength and inspiration for the foreseeable future.
The question for Christians is where do we see Jesus at work today if he’s now up in heaven? I’d like to suggest three particular places:
Firstly, in the Liturgy. Jesus said when two or three are gathered in my name, I am there amongst them. When we meet to worship God he comes among us. He confronts us in the words of the Gospel, he meets us in our prayers of intercession, he meets us in the bread and wine, and he blesses us at the end as we are sent out into his world to love and care for humanity and the creation.
Secondly, he meets us in acts of service. This has been particularly evident during the last few weeks and months when many people have performed acts of generosity and kindness towards others during this Covid-19 pandemic. For some it is performing their vocation to serve their local communities through Public Service, be it through the NHS or Local Authority, for others its about being a good neighbour, supporting those who are isolating or shielding, and helping to feed the nation. For some, the motivation to serve has been their Christian vocation to serve as Jesus served amongst us in his earthly ministry, for others it’s about Human values and morals.
Thirdly, Jesus comes to meet us in the silence. When everything has stopped, and words and noise fail us, when we lie awake in the night or wake up early in the morning before the birds start to sing, there is Jesus, behind us, before us, above us, beneath us. Sometimes it’s only in the Silence that we can simply be with him as our saviour and redeemer and hear that small voice of calm as we bring to Him our worries and fears.
These last few weeks the Minster like many other places has been closed because of the virus. Some folk have coped remarkably well at home, others have continued working. I long to re-enter the Minster as that is the place where I go to meet with God. It is the building set aside in the community to go and be with him. It is the place where community is made, where we come from hill and dale, homes and streets, to make community with the Community of the Trinity, joining heaven and earth in our sorrow and lament, and in our joy and worship of the Godhead, with a great shout of Alleluia!
Most of you will not have had the Sacrament of bread and wine for some considerable time. For me there is an urgency to restore this for us all, as soon as it is safe to do so, and as soon as we are given permission to hold public worship. The Fraction, the moment when the bread is broken, is the defining moment of the entire Liturgy, when we recall the broken body of Jesus on the cross, with all of our own brokenness, as people, as a community, as nations, as the cosmic order. For it is in our brokenness that Jesus, by his body turned into spiritual food, feeds us and heals us into a renewed Easter people, who are forgiven, loved, and set free to serve the world and the Kingdom of God. It is the Sacrament that sustains the earthly journey for me with its twists and turns, through the storms of life, and times of calm and joy.
Axel Schneider, former Head of the Victorian School in Aachen and I have been in close communication over the reopening of schools in both Germany and England these last few weeks. He texted me this morning saying we need normality. He then quoted Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Pray and do good works. So I pray that on this Ascension Day we can soon be together in the Minster once again with the ascended Jesus amongst us and before us.