Thursday was the feast of the Ascension and our bible reading captures that moment when the risen Christ said goodbye to his friends and ascended into heaven. In the chapel of Queen’s College, Oxford there is a wonderful painting of the disciples looking up at the clouds through which dangle a pair of feet. It’s a painting that always makes me laugh. It reminds us that the story of the ascension of Jesus is difficult to convey. It’s hard to move away from concrete imagery, the fact that however inadequately Luke is inviting us to remember that moment of earthly farewell. Yet there is deep mystery here. As Malcolm Guite points out, in one sense Jesus Christ departs, whilst in another he is given to the world in a more universal way. Having ascended into Heaven, he is available to all. Guite puts it like this:
‘Sonnet for Ascension’
We saw his light break through the cloud of glory
Whilst we were rooted still in time and place
As earth became a part of heaven’s story
And heaven opened to his human face.
We saw him go and yet we were not parted
He took us with him to the hearts of things
The heart that broke for all the broken-hearted
Is whole and Heaven-centred now, and sings,
Sings in the strength that rises out of weakness
Sings through the clouds that veil him from our sight,
Whilst we ourselves become his clouds of witness
And sing the waning darkness into light,
His light in us, and ours in him concealed
Which all creation waits to see revealed.
Luke tells us that after the Ascension, the disciples returned to the Temple with great joy and continued in their worship of God, praying for the coming of the Holy Spirit. In this period of time between Ascension and Pentecost, we too continue our worship of God and pray for the coming of the Holy Spirit. Like those first disciples we are waiting for the Holy Spirit to equip us for all that the future will hold as we emerge from this latest lockdown. We know that we are tasked with sharing the transforming good news of Jesus Christ with all people. We are reminded that we do this not in our own strength but in the strength of the Holy Spirit.
It’s often difficult to know where and how to share our faith. We may feel shy or reticent, understandably concerned that we don’t want to push our beliefs onto others. Yet prayer is exactly the place to start. In this period of time between Ascension and Pentecost, we are invited to be part of an international ecumenical initiative called thy Kingdom Come. Thy Kingdom Come is a global wave of prayer for family, friends and neighbours to come to faith. In the words of Archbishop Justin: ‘In praying ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ we all commit to playing our part in the renewal of the nations and the transformation of communities.’ This is a big task, so why not simply start by asking God to strengthen your faith such that in the months ahead you can be effective in small yet specific ways in your witness as a Christian? You may also like to pray for five people you know to come to faith.
Writing this week, Bishop Rachel says:
‘Over this past year I have repeatedly spoken about that paradox of living fully in the present whilst also being attentive to shaping the future, and always rooted in prayer. These days between Ascension Day and Pentecost bring that sharply into focus as we continue to reflect on all that we have lived and experienced in the past; what is going on around us and within us in the present; and what we are called to be and do as the next season gradually emerges and the story unfolds in new and different ways.
Let us live with expectant hearts as we continue to watch, lament and hope. Our story might be unfolding in new ways as we desire to share and discover more deeply what it means to live life in all its fullness, but the transforming gospel of Jesus Christ is unchanged.’
As you pray and reflect, you may find the words of the hymn written for Thy Kingdom Come 2021 helpful. The tune is the same as ‘Abide With Me’.
We seek your kingdom throughout every sphere, we long for heaven’s demonstration here.
Jesus your light shine bright for all to see, transform, revive, and heal society.
Before all things, in him were all things made, inspiring culture, media, and trade
May all our work serve your economy, transform, revive, and heal society.
Peace, truth, and justice reigning everywhere, with us be present in our public square.
Fill all who lead with your integrity, transform, revive, and heal society.
Forgive us Lord, when we have not engaged, failing to scribe your heart on history’s page.
Make us again what we were made to be, transform, revive, and heal society.
Faithful to govern ever may we be, selfless in service, loving constantly.
In everything may your authority, transform, revive, and heal society.
Rev Canon Nikki Arthy, Rector