Ascension Day Reflections

Date: 8th May 2016
Preacher: Rev’d Susanne Chambers
Lectionary Reading: Acts 1:1-11, Psalm 47, Ephesians 1:15-23, Luke: 24:44-53

Let us pray:

Welcoming and all-embracing Presence, draw us to yourself, clay bound as we are, transform us body and soul, surge through our hearts and lift us up, that we may follow the Pioneer of the Way into the cloud of your mysterious presence, and find ourselves most strangely at home. We pray this in the Spirit of the Universal Christ, the Resurrection and the Life.    Amen

This is our Prayer of the Day from Jim Cotter’s book ‘Unfolding the Living Word’. Beautiful words which for me express our resurrection lives!

We are still in Eastertide…still hearing the amazing stories of Jesus appearing to his disciples: I’ll go through the Sundays where we have heard these stories: the second Sunday following Easter day, the disciples are in the upper room and Jesus says to Thomas ‘don’t doubt but believe’; 3rd Sunday: the disciples out fishing and Jesus is there on the shore with a fire going and fish on it..and speaks to Simon  those three questions ‘do you love me?, and then on the 4th Sunday, a story at the time of the festival of the Dedication when the Jews were asking Jesus if he is the Messiah, to tell them plainly and Jesus responds ‘I have told you and you do not believe.’ We then were back at the Last Supper on the 5th Sunday of Easter to hear those words we know so well “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (13 verses 34/35) and last week was again about love and about peace. The peace that passes all understanding. Do not let your hearts be troubled..

Beautiful, life giving stories that we are to take inside ourselves that will ‘surge through our hearts and lift us up!’

All the readings so far in Eastertide have been from the gospel of John. Today we go to the gospel of Luke, since we are in the year of Luke for Ascension Day readings.  You are probably aware that Ascension Day was last Thursday and on my calendar at home it says it is also a national day of prayer I think for Mexico.

Actually the days following Ascension Day on Thursday, are days set aside for prayer and preparation as we wait ….wait for the celebration of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost…next Sunday!

The Ascension of Jesus has been depicted in film and in art as Jesus slowly ascending into heaven and out of sight from the disciples.  You can picture the misty cloud affect and with just the right light, Jesus slowly ascending out of sight! The disciples left looking up into the place/space where Jesus disappeared.

From the Acts of the Apostles the first thing told in chapter one, is about the promise of the Holy Spirit and then the Ascension of Jesus and from our reading today it said: “And as they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them.  They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven?” (1:10, 11)

I think whenever something unusual happens we are for a time stunned until we sort of shake ourselves awake to what has happened.  We then hopefully move!

God is a God of surprises and we know that the disciples wrestled with what Jesus was saying and doing… he was their teacher and healer; he was crucified; he rose from the dead and then he was eating and talking with them and then he was gone again!  So much to digest, take in, in such a short period of time.  I wonder how we would have coped.

There are a number of stories of events that happened and we don’t know how they happened.  For example, in the New Testament of the Transfiguration or the wind and fire of Pentecost…or the visions of Saul on the road to Damascus or when Jesus was with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, broke bread and then disappeared.

Each time it was an awakening for the disciples to something new…something new in their relationship with Jesus …with God. …this continuing communion between God, Jesus and the disciples, even if they didn’t grasp it at the time.

So the ascension signifies a change in how Jesus is present to his disciples.  It may appear that Jesus has left the disciples but in fact it is a new way of being with the disciples with the coming of the Spirit, and so they went away with great joy, worshipping in the temple.

As Jenifer McKenzie said last week, a disciple is a learner…we have ‘L’ plates on.

“There is always more of God than we know or could imagine. What we thought we had learned about faith and the love of God come home to us new and with more power as we move through the joys and the struggles of our lives.” [i]

Sadly in the past religion has kept people as children and so we didn’t have to think for ourselves…we were in some cases actively denied using our brains!  ‘Father knew best’!

‘Do not be afraid’ is a phrase Jesus uses many times with his disciples. Yes, some of the stories we have taken literally for many years and now we wonder if what we have been taught is real and whether we have been led up the proverbial garden path.

At the conference Jonathan and I attended during the past week, we were mingling with Jews, Muslims, and Christians.  It was so rich!  We have much to learn from each other to strengthen our faith.  The beauty and prayerfulness of those of our sisters and brothers who are Muslim or Jew are helpful I believe, for us to respect their religion and also for us to get back to our roots of praying regularly, of taking note and participating in our rituals and special celebrations.   I think many Christians have become complacent and we are invited to wake up and to see Jesus with new eyes today.

One of the key note speakers said instead of diagnosing everything we could rather see life, ourselves and others by discernment rather than diagnosis. Discernment is about curiosity, wonder, watching, listening, waiting for insight.  We tend to have a set diagnosis about someone or something and this creates a barrier. We diagnose, we see people as a problem to be solved rather than another human being on the journey. To continue to diagnose, we create a barrier to our growth as human beings and particularly our spiritual growth. Some examples would be what we think about our Jewish brothers and sisters, our Muslim sisters and brothers, the LGBTI community, Australian Aboriginals/Japanese/Chinese/ Sudanese..etc.

(A couple of stories from the conference: two transgender women, a woman born of aboriginal/Christian-Chinese/Malay Buddhist who is now a Muslim)

Have we listened to their stories?

We then get to know the person.

We hear lots of amazing stories each week here at St Pauls. Stories to awaken us to the love of God we know through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus wants us to have life! To be fully alive! We hear beautiful music and we see symbols of cross, stain glass windows (telling stories) altar, bread and wine, all to nourish us and sent out in the power of the Holy Spirit for our Christian pilgrimage.

Jesus said he would never leave us and he hasn’t.  We can easily forget that he said this, but in the sharing of the bread and wine, the singing of hymns and prayer and being open in heart and mind to the love of God and neighbour, we will continue life with joy and thankfulness.

As we wait and pray and prepare for the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, this coming week, let us pray again:

Welcoming and all-embracing Presence, draw us to yourself, clay bound as we are, transform us body and soul, surge through our hearts and lift us up, that we may follow the Pioneer of the Way into the cloud of your mysterious presence, and find ourselves most strangely at home. We pray this in the Spirit of the Universal Christ, the Resurrection and the Life.    Amen


The Lord be with you.





[i] Sarah Henrich: commentary on Ephesians 1:15-23 (working preacher website)