Rev. Rosemary Webb
29th May 2014
Ascension Day 2014

Are you celebrating today with joy?

We have all done it, in fact I well remember standing on our church drive watching as masses of balloons are let off, when everyone seems to have an air of expectancy, where we stand and stare as they become smaller and smaller and then we carry on staring as if we are expecting them to come back to earth.

In the reading from Acts Jesus ascends into heaven and the disciples are left looking up into the sky, searching for him until the angels told them he was in heaven. He had said he was leaving them but they had seen him die on the cross and then return to them – perhaps he would again.

You will have heard me say before that I always find it a little surprising the number of people who at funerals talk about their loved one being a star, that the lights we see shining in the dark are people not planets. It’s as if people see stars as God’s light shining in the dark, which in many ways it is. When I am standing here I often look at the star at the top of the west window and wonder how the people of Redhill, those living around raffles bridge area, saw it, reacted when they first saw it – what they thought when this church was first opened..

We need to teach that we do not find Christ by looking into the sky, we find him here on earth with us now. When he was preparing the disciples for his Ascension he assured them that he would send the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, to guide us and sustain us. We need to learn for ourselves and teach others how we can find signs of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives. That God isn’t that star in the west window, but that he is here among us not just in church but in our daily lives, the Holy Spirit never leaves us. To teach that God came as Jesus to live among his people, and then so that the whole world could feel his presence he sent the Advocate which we celebrate in then days at Pentecost.

The Gospel reading ended with the words ‘And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.’

Do these words convey how Christians celebrate Christ’s Ascension today, I fear not, I hope I am wrong but I have a feeling that many will not even stop to think about it, it is just another date in the Church’s calendar. By chance this morning I happened to hear Radio 2 ‘Pause for Thought’ so I listened to hear how Ascension Day would be explained, but sadly there was no mention of it. If people listening didn’t know the religious slot wouldn’t teach them.

We all know how to celebrate, but does the Church truly celebrate all the great festivals. Christmas, that’s easy everyone loves to think about a new baby being born, it is easy to understand, but the Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension – well they are harder to explain – so is the church tempted not to give them the honour and respect they deserve? When I was a child all the churches I knew had a three hour service on Good Friday and we had a day off school for Ascension Day to attend our churches. Why as Christians do we need to celebrate these festivals less than my grandparents did?

Society today encourages us to think and to challenge all and everything, we can no longer expect people to believe in something because the Church has told them to – which I think is good. We have to understand why we believe something, if we don’t then I believe it becomes more like a historical fact. I remember being taught at school that we didn’t need faith to believe in Julius Caesar but that we needed faith to believe in Christ because he was far more than just a historical being; he is the greatest of mysteries.

Commenting on this passage the theologian Tom Wright says Luke’s description for all its joy and excitement brings into focus the real problem of what happened at Easter. It raises questions such as what sort of a body did Jesus have? How could it be at the same time solid and real, with flesh and bones and yet say goodbye to the disciples and be carried into heaven in front of them.

The problem with literal explanations of the glorious mysteries of the Resurrection and Ascension is that they fall short of demonstrating what God is doing. For they are realities, they are true events, but they are virtually impossible to put into words. What words can truly describe the biggest miracles the world has ever seen?

But if the Church ignores these festivals, doesn’t give them the prominence they deserve, how can we expect the next generations to learn about them. We all know the story of someone going into the jewellers and asking for a Cross, and being asked do you want one with the little man on it? If we don’t celebrate the Easter story how will people know? We are Christ’s body here on earth now – he depends on us, we need to preach the gospel for it to survive.

Football supporters scream with joy when their team wins a match in the last minute of play, do we greet the Resurrection and the Ascension with the same joy or are we (the worldwide church) in danger of treating them as just another event in the churches calendar? Which should it be.

Luke 24: 44 – end