Acts 1:6 – 14; Psalm 68:1 – 10, 33 – 36; 1 Peter 4:12 – 14; 5:6 – 11; John 17:1 – 11
Week 9, and we are all still waiting patiently for the world to re-open, reawaken to a different normal, one that embraces your love, your caring for those in most need, the vulnerable and needy, those that find isolation so difficult, lonely and depressing. We wait in hope and expectation; not dissimilar to the world 2000+ years ago when the disciples and those that believed were waiting on what God had in mind now that Jesus had been crucified. Since the Resurrection these people had met the risen Lord and amongst them were a number of women including Mary mother of Jesus and all of his immediate family his siblings, waiting watching wondering as it came to the time that Jesus was to be taken up to his Father – to ascend. This week we remember and celebrate the Ascension, the moment when Jesus was sanctified and showed the world that he was truly the son of God and by this act was re-united with the Father for all to understand that his time on earth was finished and that He had imparted to his disciples and body of believers the words from God so that they might believe in the gift of eternal life so that being at one with Him, when we eventually pass from this earthly life it will be to life everlasting.
So we really need to think about this event, think about what it says about being human because we sometimes find we are not so sure about our value as humans when so much is caught up in our Church life. It is often easy to forget or even become embarrassed about much that characterises being human. Such things like the reality of our bodies and our appetites, the fact that we are finite, and limited; the fact of our mortality and the certainty of our death; the painful difficulty we have in relationships; the struggles, joys, and setbacks that always seem to be a part of our quest for God; and also; the power that our feelings and emotions have over us. All of these are part of being human that we frequently treat our humanness as less than holy, as somehow divorced from our spiritual and religious lives, even sometimes to the extent that we see it as a bad thing, these feelings, even being something that we should not have.
What the Ascension does is to inform us that it is a good thing to be a human being; indeed it is a wonderful and an important and a holy thing to be a human being. It is such an important thing that God did it, through Jesus, God did it. Even more, the fullness of God now includes what it means to be a human being. The experience, the reality, and the stuff of being a person is so valuable that God has made it a part of God’s life.
I am sure that we or many of us anyway have been trying to use this time, enforced time when for many we cannot go out even for a walk let alone to work; to perhaps see what it is that is really important, the things that are more precious when we strip away all of the usual wrappings that are put around our daily lives. It must have been like that for the disciples, one minute they had the person of Jesus right there with them walking, talking, teaching and showing what Gods world was meant to be and encouraging them to be like Him and to show by their actions and activities that they could have ‘the kingdom’ here on earth if they followed what Jesus taught them. Then suddenly this is all taken away Jesus is dead, crucified and buried. BUT – He was of course resurrected and stayed with them even if only for a short time, until this day, the day when He would be taken up to His Father , when they would more fully understand that Jesus was the messiah He truly was the Son of God and at the same time the Son of Man, God living as Man so that He could experience what we the human race experience going through life. Experiencing all the emotions, hurts and joys of being human whilst at the same time showing us how God does act showing us how we should live our lives that would reflect Gods purposes for us, how we can be like Jesus, we can be restored to God and through that bring in ‘The Kingdom’ here on Earth.
Remember it was not some spiritual aspect of Jesus, the divine nature of Jesus, or something invisible or simply the idea of Jesus, that ascended to the Father. It was the resurrected body of Jesus: a body that the disciples had eaten and drank with, the body they had touched and held a gloriously restored body with the marks of the nails and of the spear which they saw and through which Thomas came to truly believe. That is what ascended. For them and for us and for everyone now and for eternity this was a real part of God and as such the Ascension changed who God is.
When we approach God, when we consider God, and when we try to share our lives with God, it is important to remember that we are dealing with one who remembers; and knows what our lives are like, not just on a conceptual level but at a real practical day to day level. God remembers what it is like to hurt and to laugh, to pray and to hunger, to be lost and afraid, to celebrate and to mourn; God remembers what it is like to live and what it is like to die. God knows this, and God knows this in the only way that really matters as far as relationship is concerned. God knows because God has been there.
So we are able to approach God, to reach out to God and to look for the presence and will of God, with confidence and with joy. For as we turn toward God, we are not only dealing with the creator of the universe and the ruler of all time and of eternity; we are also drawing near to the one who lived our life and who has shared our fate. We are coming near to one who knows us and who cares.
Perhaps one thing this pandemic has done for us is to point out that we don’t often know how to be separate but still united. Now, as we read the passages for today in light of the Ascension, we realise what Jesus was preparing them for and is preparing us for — to remain united with him, and with each other, even when he is not physically present and we are not able to be physically together.
When Christ ascended, the disciples looked around at each other, and the sky, such that the angels standing by asked them, “Why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” (Acts 1:11). It’s okay not to know what to do next. It’s okay to be still. It’s okay to put one foot in front of the other and muddle through. And it is okay to be taken aback by physical separation from those we love and whose presence comforts us and lifts us up.
We are learning, or have learned, to be with one another, united in Christ, even when we are not physically present. During our time of lockdown in this pandemic we have joined together in our communities, our diocese, across the country and across the world and this we have done by meeting through the Word and our mutual love for Christ and for one another. We have done nothing perfectly, but we have allowed the crisis to teach us. We have been sanctified by the truth and held together in love by Christ.
by Alan Finch