from St Faith's
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
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
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
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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