Ascension Day Reflections

Date: 28th May 2017
Preacher: Rev’d Susanne Chambers
Church Calendar Date: Ascension
Lectionary Reading: Acts 1:1-11, Psalm 47, Ephesians 1:15-23, Matthew 28:16-20

Today we reflect on the Ascension of Jesus, slowly ascending out of sight and leaving the disciples gazing up towards heaven, I wonder how we make sense of this event.

We’ve had a number of funerals lately here at St Pauls and it reminded me of funerals I have taken usually for younger people, when at the end of the service, helium balloons are let loose as they are lifted up by the breeze into the sky.  People just stand looking up for a long time… some quietly saying things like ‘your free now’; ‘keep flying’…

The reality of the death of someone hits home when you then look back down on the ground and slowly walk to your car… and your life continues but changed forever. Even now, as I remember some of those funerals and the deep grief, so palpable of those left behind, just makes my heart ache. To love and care is tough… it hurts…

As I was reflecting on this, I thought of Jesus and his early friends. They were with him for three precious years: had meals with him, walked and talked with him; saw him do outrageous things like talk to women, heal people on the Sabbath; mingle with those on the outer, touch lepers, speak with authority and wisdom and love… and then they saw him suffer horribly and die.

They experienced him after his death in different ways and so 40 days on since he died, the thought of him going forever from their presence, would’ve been somewhat confusing… still grieving… still in wonder and awe…and still looking up…

From the Acts of the Apostles, Luke tells us “…then two men in white robes stood by them.  They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven?” (Acts 1: 11)

As with balloons being let loose at a funeral, we want time to stop. We are still grieving and wishing things were different, still have the memories of many stories and yet we know in our heart of hearts that they can’t be changed. Life indeed will be very different and we need to go on.

In the 1977 film ‘Jesus of Nazareth’, a key player of the Sanhedrin enter the tomb of Jesus and finds it empty. He mumbles to himself, “Now it begins.”[i]

The closing scene from Matthew’s gospel that we heard today, could carry the title “Now it continues”.

The disciples will not find Jesus in the tomb or in the heavens.They will find him continuing his mission of love here on earth.

The experience of seeing Jesus after he died, was not definitive proof that he had risen.  Some saw and worshiped; others saw and doubted. There is something more than just ‘seeing’ as proof. The two on the road to Emmaus didn’t recognise Jesus; Mary Magdalene in the Garden didn’t either. This discernment comes from an inner knowing.

I recall a key note speaker at a conference I attended last year, who said something like, instead of diagnosing everything we could rather see life, ourselves and others by discernment rather than diagnosis [or analysis!] Discernment is about curiosity, wonder, watching, listening, waiting for insight.  To continue to diagnose, we create a barrier to our growth as human beings and particularly our spiritual growth.

It’s so true isn’t it, how often we want to have the writing on the wall, to see before we believe, to know for sure God exists, but for spiritual truths they are of the heart.

Sarah Henrich in her commentary on the letter to the Ephesians said: “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.” [ii]

Today begins the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity from the National Council of Churches. The theme this year is “Reconciliation – the Love of Christ compels us”.

The events in Manchester, the violence and the displacement of so many people around the world, the acknowledgement of our early history of Australia with the indigenous peoples, our own life stories are all in the mix of the life we know or hear about.

Yes, we mess up badly; we don’t respect each other; Institutions will let us down… the church will let us down, but they are like us, broken and need healing from the God of love. Just think of Jesus’ friends who betrayed and abandoned him… he still loved them. Sometimes hard to comprehend when we feel helpless in world situations.

As we reflect on the Ascension of Jesus today, let’s not just leave it as another interesting part of the Christian story. It is our story and we are in it and are commissioned to bear witness to the love Christ Jesus has for all of creation.  The Love of Christ compels us to do so.

We are people of hope. We have the promise that Jesus the Christ will be with us always albeit in a new way. We experience and know Jesus in the body of his people, in the bread and the wine of his table and in the communion of peace.

We will still send balloons up at funerals and stand staring up at them. When we turn back to our lives, yes we will grieve. We miss our loved one so much.  Hopefully with the eyes of faith and with the willingness to learn from Jesus who wants us to keep loving, keep seeking justice, and keep having compassion for all peoples.

And as the closing scene from Matthew’s gospel today, could have the title “now it continues”… well, that’s up to us.

‘May the one who goes from our sight, prepare a place for all creation in the wideness of his grace and bring the powers of every quarter to worship at his wounded feet.’[iii]


The Lord be with you.

[i] Director Franco Zeffirelli’s 1977 film

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

[iii] Prayers for an Inclusive church by Steven Shakespeare