Sermons from St Faith's

The Ascension
The Revd Emma Calderwood: 6.30 am Solemn Mass, Ascension Day 2008

I’m sure everyone has seen, or at least heard of the film ET, a story about an alien that is left stranded on earth and who befriends a boy called Elliot. The film finishes with what must be one of the most tear jerking goodbyes in the history of cinema as during their short time together; ET and Elliot form a strong emotional bond, to the extent that they can feel each other’s emotions.

I wonder how far the author, Melissa Mathison was influenced by the events of Christ’s life in that ET came, touched our hearts, died, came back to life and then returned home.

Just before ET enters his space ship to return home, he turns to Elliot and tells him that he will always be with him. Christ’s last words to his disciples in our Gospel today – “And remember I am with you always, to the end of the age” certainly sound like they had a strong influence on ET’s final words to Elliot.

Saying goodbye is never easy, especially to someone who has had a profound effect on your life, and even more so when you know you won’t see them again.

The goodbye that the Disciples faced at the Ascension was one which was undoubtedly difficult. Having faced life without Jesus before I’m sure some of those feelings would have been re-occurring, ones of being scared, apprehensive and even doubtful, after all how can could they be expected to do what Christ asked of them in their present hostile climate?

So then comes the question – do we as Christ’s Disciples now also react in the same way, in our own sometimes hostile climate?

It is a subject of authority.
And so to another question –
       Who is in charge?
       Who runs this church?

This could be a tricky question; there could be several different possibilities that come to mind. Some people will automatically think of Fr Neil, others will look towards the PCC or other Church groups, others may think simply churchwardens and treasurer; others will consider a wider body – Bishop James or the Diocese.

So let's think about this for a moment and ask the question this way: "Who is the head of this church?"

Perhaps an easier question - Most churches of every denomination in some way or another affirm that – Jesus Christ is the head of the church.

This is where the crunch usually comes. Most people have no argument with the concept that Jesus Christ is head of the church.  At the same time most of us would probably agree that Jesus Christ is not actually running the church in that practical sense.

Yet, it is important to who we are - that there be a relationship between the true Head of the Church and what actually takes place in our life together as a community.

The readings which focus upon Christ’s Ascension contain some of the most powerful statements in the whole of the Bible about the sovereignty of God and the Lordship of Christ. They can direct us as we consider the relationship between our affirmation of who Christ is in the church and the day to day conduct of our life together.

That is why the celebration of Christ’s Ascension is just as important today as the day it happened. Christ now reigns in Heaven, in full authority of heaven and earth, and when Christ doesn’t reign in every aspect of the Church’s life the notion of Christ being the head is lost.

Is it no wonder that the world is at times disbelieving of the Church when it hears the Church speak about the love of Christ for everyone but sometimes that love isn’t reflected within the Church? Unfortunately Christ’s reflection can be severely lacking from the reality of who we are.

The power mentioned in Ephesians is the power God has given his Son. Christ is in charge and as such is the only ruling authority in the Church. As the body of Christ, the Church is to be for others what Christ would be if he were here in the flesh. Whether a church is governed by clergy, PCC, or a bishop, the church is nevertheless under the authority of Christ, therefore the Church should be loving, accepting and forgiving as Christ is loving, accepting and forgiving.

Christ alone is Head of the Church.  That's why we are the "Body" of Christ.  We are not the "brain" of Christ, but the "body" of Christ. This is the central point of Ascension Day.  Jesus Christ reigns in the church from on High.

This is the church in principle. BUT, Is this the church in practice?

At the beginning of Acts we see the power of God happening, the kind of power which meant the might of Rome could not crush the existence of Christianity. So in Matthew’s Gospel, when Jesus told his Disciples to go and make Disciples of all nations, it wasn’t the dreams of a mere Jewish peasant but the voice of the Authority, Might and Kingship of God speaking. This is just as relevant for us today.

The disciples were sent, but they had to wait. Wait for the Holy Spirit to be sent. The power to accomplish the central task of the church is a power which is bestowed upon the church.  As with the question of authority -- so it is with the question of strength to carry out the task.  Like the Disciples, we are not to go in our own strength, but rather in the strength of the Holy Spirit of God. The focus that runs through the texts is the power of God, the reign of Jesus Christ with God and the giving of power to the people of God for witness and ministry.

Christ’s Ascension is an affirmation that things did not end with his death and his resurrection was not the end of the story, but in fact was just the beginning of the work of the gospel. With the Ascension, the work of the kingdom gets underway in earnest. Christ’s Ascension is at the heart of the rationale for the life and witness of the community of faith -- the Body of Christ on earth.
Just as ET said to Elliot as he left to go home, I will always be with you, so Christ tells us in Matthews Gospel “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” A promise which he will never break, a promise which makes the work of the gospel possible. Possible for the Disciples then and equally possible for us now.

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