Friday, 18 May 2007

Ascension day 2007

LUKE 24:44-end

It is good for the Christians in Bury St Edmunds to gather together and to celebrate the ascension here

For those who do not know the story it is very simple.

Jesus was crucified
Three days later he rose from the dead
For a period of 40 days he appeared to his disciples

And Jesus uses those times
to convince them that he is alive
to demonstrate that the cross was as much a part of God’s plan as was the and resurrection
to prepare them for their future work: the preaching of repentance and forgiveness to all nations

And then, at the end of the 40 days, Jesus is taken from them into heaven. Luke simply says, “While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.”

So why celebrate the ascension? Is it not a sad day, the day that Jesus was taken from us?

We celebrate the ascension because it points us to another world

It is the very absence of the living physical Jesus which points us to another world: a world that is beyond what we can see, feel, hear, touch or smell.

But how do you describe a world that is beyond space and time?

The bible uses the language of ascension. We talk of heaven as being ‘up there’, even though we literally do not mean that it is up there.

CS Lewis in the Chronicles of Narnia uses the language of a parallel universe. This universe can be entered, by gift, through things like wardrobes!

And there is a brilliant poem by Dr Seuss called Beyond Zebra. In it, the speaker tells of how his alphabet begins where everybody else’s alphabet ends. His alphabet begins after the letter ‘Z’

"I'm telling you this 'cause you're one of my friends.
"My alphabet starts where your alphabet ends!
My alphabet starts with this letter called YUZZ.
It's the letter I use to spell Yuzz-a-ma-Tuzz.
You'll be sort of surprised what there is to be found
Once you go beyond Z and start poking around!
So, on beyond Zebra!
Explore!Like Columbus!
Discover new letters!
Like WUM is for Wumbus,
My high-spouting whale who lives high on a hill
And who never comes down 'til it's time to refill.
So, on beyond Z! It's high time you were shown
That you really don't know all there is to be known".
The ascension tells us that there is a world beyond what we know; a world beyond ‘Z’.

This is the world where Christ reigns in glory
This is a world of love, grace, truth, mercy, justice, beauty and righteousness

This is the world that we glimpse in moments of ‘otherness’: those moments when we see and realise our desperate brokenness and need for God – and at the same time are overwhelmed by his love for us.

And the good news that the church has to preach is that because of Jesus the door to this other world is now open, to all people. We preach that there can be repentance and that there is forgiveness.

And it is this world – this invisible world – that is the real thing.
We stand in the ruins of this great abbey. It was enormous. In its time, it was the third largest building in Europe. Now: it is a pile of stones. And one day, the cathedral church of St James and the civic church of St Mary’s will be like this (although if the Christian Platonists are correct there will be in heaven a transfigured St Mary’s, St James and Great Abbey – the real thing of which these buildings here are but shadows)

But the fact that there are ruins here now doesn’t matter: because as Christians we are, as Peter puts it, aliens and strangers in this world, and we look for a world that is beyond our world – a world where Jesus Christ is ascended.

So we celebrate the physical absence of the living Jesus, because it tells us that there is something more.

We celebrate the ascension because it tells us of the Lordship of Jesus

This is not an excuse for Christian triumphalism – for Christian imperialism – for the imposition of our views on others.

We’ve tried to do that in the past, and these ruins are a witness to what happens when we do that. We forgot that the one who we proclaim as LORD is the one who, out of love, was crucified for us.

And it is precisely because it is Jesus Christ who is Lord:

Ø that we are called to clothe ourselves with kindness, with perseverance, with faithfulness and with love.
Ø that we are called to turn our backs on the rewards of this world: the wealth, the possessions, the titles, the power in order to become servants of the powerless and dispossessed, whether here, or among the pockets of poverty that can still be found in our rural areas, or in our inner city estates, or overseas
Ø that we are called to identify with the broken, the child or young person who no-one can cope with, the mentally ill, the prisoner, with those who need 24 hour care
Ø that we are called to swallow our pride; to admit that we do not have all the answers; to admit that we get things wrong; to say sorry and to forgive
Ø that we are called to follow Jesus: to give everything that we have, to give our lives, in order that others might live
Ø that we are called to become like Jesus in his death: to become scum, the despised, the mocked of the earth in order that others may find the freedom that comes from discovering the truth that it is Jesus Christ who is Lord, and the realisation of the forgiveness and love of God.

It is because it is Jesus – the crucified and risen one - who is Lord of all, that we are not to be lords of all, but servants of all, for his sake. And it is because it is Jesus – the crucified and risen one – who is Lord of all, that we know that evil and death will not have the final word.


We celebrate the ascension because it is about the presence of Jesus in this world

The ascended Jesus is not physically here, as you are here or I am here. But because he has ascended, he is with us.

He says to his followers, “Stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high”: He is talking about the power that is the Holy Spirit – the power of his presence with us.

The paradox of the ascension is that as Jesus is taken from us up into heaven, so he becomes closer to us than the air that we are breathing. And this is not something to be explained or understood. This is something to be experienced, to be known, to be lived

People sometimes say, “If I could see him, then I would obey him”. I’m sorry. The logic of the ascension is the opposite. It is because Jesus is Lord in heaven, that we can know him on earth. Faith and obedience usually comes first.

It is as the disciples trust him and are obedient to his command, as they wait in Jerusalem, so his presence – through his Spirit – comes on them.

And it is as we trust him and are obedient to him in our daily lives, so we will know his presence among us.

And as we cease trying to live for ourselves, trying to prove ourselves and trust him and turn to him in prayer, submitting our will to his will, seeking his kingdom, laying our needs at his feet, he is with us.

And as we trust him and are obedient to his command to break bread and share wine in remembrance of him, so that other world – beyond Z – breaks into our world. And the risen ascended Jesus is present with us.

We celebrate the ascension because it points us forward to the future coming of Jesus

The thing that strikes me about the verses that we have read is that although the physical Jesus has gone, the disciples are filled with joy.

The ascension is soaked in hope: Jesus told the disciples that though he was going away, he would be with them. He also told them that just as he had gone into the heavens, so he would return. We don’t know when and we don’t know how. It will be the end of space and time as we know it. But we are told that on that day, this world and that world will collide, and that world will penetrate and consume this world, and on that day, “every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father”.

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