The Parishes of Crail and St Ayle

Reflections for the Locked out - Locked Down Church from Peter Neilson 

Ascension Sunday - 24th May 2020

Good morning and shalom to all my friends in Crail and St Ayle.

Grace and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Today we celebrate another of the great moments in the Jesus story – the day of his Ascension. After six weeks of random encounters with his disciples in his new spiritual body, recognisable yet different, he is taken from their sight into “the heaven of the heavens”. From now on, his followers would walk by faith, not by sight.

If you can access a recording of Handel’s Messiah, you might like to begin by listening to the Hallelujah Chorus and at the end take time to listen to the final chorus: Worthy is the Lamb.

Alternatively, begin by reading or singing Hymn 459 - Crown him with many Crowns, and end with Hymn 441 – “Blessing and honour and glory and power”.  Oh, and have a pen and paper handy for the prayers of intercession.

 

Time to light that candle, sit quietly with Bible and music, and be amazed in the presence of the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. (Rev 19:18)

Gathering into the Presence of God

Lift up your heads, you gates.

Lift yourselves up, you everlasting doors, that the King of glory may come in! (Psalm 24:7)

The heavens are open wide,

Since Jesus, our brother, our Redeemer

Has entered through the veil.

We thank you for his new and living way,

By which we join unnumbered millions

Who are with you forever.

 

Eternal God,

By raising Jesus from the dead

You proclaimed his victory,

And by his ascension

You declared him King.

Lift up our hearts to heaven

That we may live and reign with him.

 

Eternal and gracious God

We believe Your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ

To have ascended with triumph

Into your kingdom in heaven;

May we also in heart and mind

Ascend to where he is,

And with him continually dwell;

Who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit

One God, now and forever.

                                                                [A New Zealand Prayer Book,

                                                                He Karakia Mihinare o Aoteroa]

 

Listening for God’s Word

Dr Luke describes the mysterious moment when Jesus returned to the Father. He gives a short version at the end of his Gospel – the story of the earthly ministry of Jesus with his followers in the days of his flesh. He expands the scene at the beginning of his second account – the story of the ministry of the Ascended Jesus through his followers in the power of the Spirit.

 

Readings: Luke 24:44-53 and Acts 1:1-11

Reflecting on God’s Word

Lift up your heads, believers!

This is the holy day

When Jesus our Redeemer

Completes salvation’s way.

 

Lift up your heads, believers!

Do not be downcast

For Jesus, our Redeemer

Receives the crown at last!          (CH4 No 446)

 

Ascension Day is a day to lift up our heads with faith and expectation. He has gone, but he will return. In one sense they only had to wait 10 days, when Jesus returned in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. In another sense, we are still waiting for the day when He will make all things new.

Either way we lift our heads in hope and expectation.

As this period of lockdown continues, hope of a return to normality is tentative. The complexity of unlock is becoming more and more obvious – the nervousness over children returning to schools, the major adjustments to workplaces to allow a proportion of employees to return to work, the unemployment numbers rocketing, and recession plummeting. It is easy to let the heads go down and begin that slow shaking of the head in bemusement at it all.

The least we can do as Christians is lift up our heads and look up in faith.

Lift up your heads, believers!

And do not be downcast....

 

Day by day we are given images of the invisible corona virus, looking like a mine from World War II about to explode with destructive force wherever it touches. On this Ascension Sunday we are invited to look to a different invisible force – the corona vir – the Crowned Man (playing a little fast and loose with my Latin! Corona = crown; vir = man).

For Jesus, our Redeemer

Receives his crown at last.

 

The Ascension is often given light treatment, partly because Ascension Day lands on a Thursday, and partly because our minds are moving on to Pentecost, and the coming of the Spirit.

You may have noticed my occasional references to St Bernard of Clairvaux, a huge influence in European Christianity in his time (1090-1153), a prolific writer on devotion to God and a founder of 68 monasteries in 35 years, while working as a prominent mediator during a time of church schism.

Bernard had a particular fascination for the Feast of the Ascension and initiated a special procession at Clairvaux to mark the feast, contrary to the custom of his Order. It became a feature in its time. He left more sermons on the Ascension than on any of the mysteries of Christ, including the Incarnation or the Passion. Let one of his commentators explain why it was important to Bernard:

The Ascension symbolises Christ passing from the life of the flesh to glory in the life of the Spirit. This transition from flesh to Spirit can be accomplished in us because it has first taken place in Christ. The Spirit comes to us by means of the flesh of the Lord, which is united to his divinity; by the flesh of the Son of Man, we are raised to the Spirit of the Son of God.

 

You might want to read that a couple of times! It is like sucking a sweetie to get the full flavour!

How often have we watched gannets swooping down into the water and rising to rejoin the flock in the air? How often have you watched a swallow swoop downwards and upwards with elegant athleticism? Hold that image in your mind.

In the Incarnation God in Christ has swooped down to be “God with us”. In the Ascension God carried us upward in Christ into his eternal presence to be “us with God”.

From now on nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord, because we have been lifted up into the eternal heart of God, and our lives are “hidden with Christ in God”. (Colossians 3:2) Whatever life may throw at us, or whatever uncertain future is ahead of us as individuals or as a nation, that anchorage is sure and steadfast.  

Lift up your heads, believers!

This is the holy day

When Jesus our Redeemer

Completes salvation’s way.

The forty days are over,

And clouds shine high and bright

As Christ, the Overcomer,

Is lifted from our sight.

Responding to God’s Word and God’s Spirit

In the Temple in Jerusalem, the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies once a year on the Day of Atonement to pray for the people of Israel. He wore a breastplate decorated with twelve jewels, each jewel representing one of the tribes of Israel. He carried the people into the presence of God.

The letter to the Hebrews uses this imagery to describe the Ascended Jesus as the High Priest who has entered into God’s presence on our behalf – taking us into the heart of God. Early in the letter, he envisages Jesus before the Father saying: “Here I am and the children God has given me.” (Heb 2:13)

Imagine Jesus looking round at us, and presenting us to His Father with loving delight.

For our prayers of intercession, draw a rectangle to represent the “breastplate” and write in it twelve names of people you want Jesus to bring into the presence of Father for his blessing. The artistic among you will add colour and shape to this idea, but I am of limited imagination and even more limited artistic ability!

  • You will know people struggling with mental illness, bereavement, financial pressures, collapsing businesses.

  • You might want to draw another breastplate for the names of key workers in our community, politicians and public leaders.

  • You might want another for the names international leaders, and countries in Africa and South America facing this virus without the infrastructure we enjoy, now facing a pandemic of starvation.  

 

Hold the “breastplate” with the names and repeat the words attributed to Jesus: “Here I am with the children God has given me.” It is enough to bring them before God. Trust God to bless his children.

A Meditation before we Go

He Reigns

 

While we deliberate, he reigns.

When we decide wisely, he reigns.

When we decide foolishly, he reigns.

When we serve him in humble loyalty, he reigns.

When we serve him self-assertively, he reigns.

When we rebel and seek to withhold our service from him,

he reigns – the Alpha and Omega,

who was and who is and who is to come,

the Almighty.

 

Archbishop William Temple

 

A Blessing

Not so much a blessing as a final affirmation of confidence said by each of us over each other.

To him who is able to keep you from falling

And to present you before his glorious presence

Without fault and with great joy –

To the only God our Saviour

be glory, majesty, power and authority

through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages,

now and for evermore. AMEN

© 2018 - 2020 by St Ayle