Ascension Day 21st May 2020
Ascension Day is one of those important days in the Christian calendar but we no longer give it as much prominence as Christmas Day and Easter Day. When I worked in Wakefield the Churches Together Group used to meet for an ecumenical early morning service on Sandal Castle and came to value different traditions and approaches within the church.
But what is Ascension Day celebrating? For forty days after Easter Day Jesus travelled around and preached with his apostles preparing them for the day he would depart from earth. Acts has the longest account of what happened in chapter 1 but Luke gives his first version in chapter 24 verses 44-53. Today we celebrate the fact that Jesus Christ has gone to join with his Father in heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
So here is a prayer from Luke’s gospel. Then there is a dramatic reading about Ascension Day written by Sam Hargreaves from engageworship.
Finally ‘A Sonnet for Ascension Day’ from Rev Malcolm Guite taken from his collection ‘Sounding the Seasons’ published by Canterbury Press.
The final verse is of a hymn found in Singing the Faith (296) Christ has risen while earth slumbers (John Bell and Graham Maule Iona Community)
Great God of heaven and earth and all that is, you are always with us and we have grown used to the idea of your nearness so that we no longer look up in awe and amazement, recognising in wonder that you span earth and heaven in a moment. We know you are with us now and for all eternity.
As we sit here in this moment we know we are in the presence of our ascended Lord. We celebrate the mystery of our glorious King.
As we see old plans and projects end, new ideas and fresh understanding will emerge, help us as we make a leap into the new and understand the vastness of the future and yet still feel the solid familiarity of today and your living loving presence which never ends. Amen.
44 Then Jesus said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
The Ascension of Jesus
50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.52 And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; 53 and they were continually in the temple blessing God.
Ascension Day Dramatic Reading Sam Hargreaves. Based on Acts 1.
Whooosh! Just like that! Like a rocket, Zoooomm, that’s how he went! Better than any fireworks I’ve ever seen! Wheeeee! And we were watching to see where he was going when a cloud came across, and, well, that was it. Gone. Ascended.
I didn’t want him to go. He’d already left us once, and that was awful. We just didn’t know what to do with ourselves, we moped around, fearful for our lives, fearful for our sanity. I mean, he was our hope, we’d left everything for him. And he had promised that he would never leave us or forsake us. So when he died, what did that mean? Wasn’t he who we thought he was? Was he a fake or a fool, or even a fiend? So many questions and doubts. We needed him, he was showing us the way, the way to be human, to live without the legalism of the Pharisees or the rule or the Romans. But it was just those things, the rules and the rule, which caused his death. I just didn’t understand.
Then he came back. He came back! Who has ever come back from the dead! (Well, except Lazarus, and that little girl, and… er, well, perhaps I should have trusted him a bit more.) Anyway he rose again just like he said he would. And he gave us convincing proofs he was alive, showing us his wounds and eating fish and everything! I mean, ghosts don’t eat fish, do they? And he spoke to us about the Kingdom of God, and it all started to make sense, all that stuff we’d heard before but hadn’t really grasped until, well, until he’d died I guess.
One time when we were eating he said “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptised with water, but in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.”
I got all excited and said “Lord, Lord are you at this time going to restore the Kingdom of Israel?”
He looked at me in his way which means “you haven’t quite got it yet, have you?” I’m getting used to that look.
He said “It’s not for you to know the times and dates the Father has set for his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Whoooosh! Zoooooom! Gone! Ascended. Before I’d even had chance to ask him what he was going on about. And we are all standing there looking up into the sky like a load of ninnies, when we hear a voice
“Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky?” Fair question I guess. They must not have see the Whooosh! But now I think about it they did look pretty amazing themselves, all white and shiny, like people from heaven.
They said “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
I looked at my watch and was about to ask if they could give an estimated time of return, but they had already gone.
So here we are back in Jerusalem. We are praying and waiting, waiting and praying, and I can’t say I’m not excited about the coming of the Holy Spirit, whatever that might be. But to be honest I’d rather Jesus came back himself. I need him. No one knows me like he does. No one shows me God like he does. But I guess even more than that the world needs him. Israel needs to be restored, God’s Kingdom needs to come to this world, and Jesus is the only one to do it, I really believe that. But I’m worried that not one Jesus would be enough, its like we need God to send maybe 100 or 1000 little Jesus’, going around and spreading his Kingdom. Little Christs, empowered to do his work. We can’t do it, we are useless. Come on God, we need your help!
Ascension Day Sonnet
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 heart 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 .
Vs 4 from hymn 296 Singing the Faith
Christ has risen and forever
lives to challenge and to change
all whose lives are messed or mangled,
all who find religion strange.
Christ is risen. Christ is present,
making us what he has been-
evidence of transformation
in which God is known and seen.
Be with us in our journeying,
meet us with a blessing,
give us confidence to face the future
with hope and expectancy. Amen.
Resources Luke 24:44-53 New Revised Standard version. Dramatic reading Ascension Day ©Sam Hargreaves /engageworship.org. ‘A Sonnet for Ascension Day’ from Rev Malcolm Guite ‘Sounding the Seasons’ published by Canterbury Press. The final verse is of a hymn Singing the Faith (296) Christ has risen while earth slumbers (John Bell and Graham Maule Iona Community)