Sermons from St
Revd Denise McDougall,
Ascension Day, Thursday, 5th May, 2016
Ascension Day is one of the most important feast days in the
Christian year, when Christ commissions his disciples to
continue his work and promises them the gift of the Holy
Spirit. Such a crucial time in the Church’s calendar but I
don’t feel Christ’s Ascension always gets the recognition it
deserves; having said that though there are some magnificent
paintings and murals depicting Christ’s ascension into
heaven. Forgive me for reminiscing and recalling an
Ascension Day some years ago when I went to a Eucharist in a
beautiful medieval church in a little French Village in the
South of France. The sermon had begun but was suddenly
interrupted by a deafening thunder storm and brilliant fork
lightning, the electricity all went off, so no lights and no
sound system (I do have to admit that my French is quite
limited so I could only understand the odd word or two of
the sermon anyway!) The congregation was left in a
candle-light church with the flickering flames dancing on
the exquisitely painted Ascension Scene which covered the
whole of the dome above us. The priest continued against the
background of thunder and lightning and as I went to receive
communion I’m certain I wasn’t alone in feeling God’s very
real presence, his risen power and his unconditional love
which is always there to embrace us. Every Ascension Day
since I have been transported back to that very special
As Christians we are keen to celebrate the birth of Jesus, mark his time in the wilderness, his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, his last supper with his disciples, his death and resurrection and of course the giving of the Holy Spirit.
I have often said that because of the scriptures we aren’t left with any cliff-hangers we know the next bit of the story but of course the disciples didn’t. There is no excuse for us, if we are indifferent or ignore today’s events then we are missing out on a very big piece of the whole story.
The disciples’ emotions must have been so mixed up, death, resurrection and now disappearance, and despite the fact that Jesus had warned them that in a little while they would no longer see him and then again in a little while they would see him, confused mustn’t even have come close to how they were feeling. The reality and security of Jesus among them had now been replaced by his absence and bewilderment. Not unlike a bereavement, but sometimes it can take a bereavement to understand someone better.
No doubt everyone here at some point has experienced the loss of a loved one, a loss caused by death or some other form of family separation. A bereavement can leave us with a huge void in our lives which requires a lot of mental and emotional effort to help us cope with difficult and confusing times. Yet when someone we love dearly dies we never stop loving them, we often learn from the loss and we may even come to have a greater appreciation of why they did or said certain things. One of the most frequent questions to be asked is probably one simple word ‘Why?’ Yet Jesus had already answered this question before he ascended. In last week’s Gospel we heard that ‘Unless I go, the Advocate will not come to you …… but if I go, I will send him to you’. The disciples were probably very baffled but had to put their trust in Jesus. To really love someone you have to trust and be prepared to let go.
Jesus always knew that he would be leaving the disciples to return to his Father so during those three years of public ministry he prepared them for the work they would be doing after he had left them on earth. The Ascension of Jesus brings closure to his earthly life and is a sign that his work on earth is accomplished and through the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, he passed on responsibility to the disciples and subsequently to us, we now have that responsibility to go out into the world to announce and live out the Gospel message.
Through the power of the Holy Spirit, which we have all received at baptism and confirmation we have been entrusted to share the greatest message the world has ever known. We aren’t expected to do that alone but with God to guide us and this means opening our hearts and minds to the bigger picture, going out beyond our comfort zones, using our imaginations and opening up the boundaries of our minds. Anne Lewin in one of her poems says, ‘Ascension means a God-like view of things, rising above our usual limitations.’
Ascension Day should be our call into action, to be more enthusiastic in the ways we show others that we really are living examples of the presence of Christ in the world. Of course I am not saying that we don’t try to do this already, in Christian Aid Week starting on Pentecost Sunday I’m sure there will be support from all our Waterloo Churches and we will be joining thousands of volunteers working for Christ by working for better lives for those living in poverty. The gospel message has never been one of complacency or about leaving work to the people who we know will always offer their services. We all have the capacity to offer something; there is always someone in need of prayer, a helping hand, a little encouragement or even just a smile.
Christ was not sent to us as God made flesh at Christmas just to walk the earth, gather followers, teach and heal but was sent down to raise us up so we might as disciples listen to our calling and journey until we share a place with him in the heavenly kingdom. We are the extension of Christ’s body and to sit back and do nothing is to forget that Christ gives us a mission to perform just as he gave the disciples. This Ascensiontide I hope we can all acknowledge the wonder and the full meaning of the great truth; Jesus is the way, the truth and the life and is far greater than we can ever imagine, he is one with God himself and the cloud is about the hidden glory always in our presence.
Jesus became human so we can share the divine. Ascension Day is about change and marks a new phase in the history of Christianity, today it is a time to re-focus on our mission in our community and the world.